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Wednesday, September 15, 2010



Date palms originated in countries in the Persian Gulf region it is generally believed. It has been claimed that they ranged from Senegal to the Indus River Basin on the subcontinent in prehistoric times, and there is archaeological evidence that they were cultivated in eastern Arabia around 4000BC.In ancient times they grew in abundance in the area between the River Nile and the Euphrates, and were a symbol of fertility, and depicted on bas relief and coins. Nomads planted them at oases, where they grew well in the sandy soil. The Latin name, Phoenix dactylifera means fingers of the phoenix, the legendary bird which dies in fire only to rise again from its own ashes (as in the Harry Potter books).

Dates grow in clusters of between 600 to 1700 fruit, which hang below the palm fronds. In Pakistan there is a large date, which grows to around 4 inches, and is orange in colour. There are hundreds of date cultivars, and in 1924, in his book “The Date Palm” published in 1973, Paul Pepenoe listed 1,500 types of date. The Arabs introduced them to Spain, and date palms with fruit of an inferior quality to that grown in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent have grown for centuries on the French Riviera, and in Italy, Sicily and Greece.

There is and Arabic legend which says that after God or Allah created Adam he had material left over so he fashioned it into a date palm and put it in the Garden of Eden (Paradise).

The palm fronds have many uses and in Italy and Greece are used to strew the streets for the Palm Sunday processions. They are used in this way in Portugal and Spain too. Palm leaves are also used to make fans, baskets, mats, screens, crates and a variety of other things. The tender young leaves can be boiled and eaten as a vegetable as can the heart of the tree, but when this is removed, the tree dies. In India the seeds from the dates are ground and added to flour to make bread in times of scarcity. Sometimes the seeds are roasted then ground and added to coffee in India too. The seeds, after being soaked in water, are used as animal feed and dried dates are also fed to horses, dogs and camels, which probably like them as much as they like carob. Oil from the seeds is used in making soap and some cosmetics too, while the charcoal obtained from the burnt seeds is used by silversmiths for polishing silver. They are also used as beads and threaded to make necklaces.

Dates are eaten during Ramadan to break the fast at sunset. They are useful as they give an energy boost within half an hour of their consumption and the sugar content and fibre, prevents people from over eating after the fast. In fact they are good at combating obesity as they dull the appetite and provide nutrition with only 23 calories per date, and they are cholesterol and sodium free. The dried dates or chhuhaara may be eaten at the end of the fast or the fresh dates. Here in Pakistan I’ve sampled dates that are a creamy yellow colour, a reddish brown type of date, the plump fresh brown dates and the dried dates. I’ve yet to have one of the large orange ones though.

Dates are packed with vitamins, A1, B1, 2, 3,5and 6 (the B-complex vitamins), and minerals including iron, calcium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, copper, potassium, sulphur and amino acids. The amino acids help the digestive processes, the iron content helps anemia sufferers who should eat several every day, although not too many as they are a mild laxative. The American Cancer Society recommends eating 20-25 grams of daily fibre from dates, so put some chopped ones on your breakfast cereal. They can help allay the threat of stomach cancer. The nicotine content of dates checks cancerous growths and helps strengthen the muscles of the uterus and so helps women in a smooth delivery of their baby. They also contain fluorine which strengthens tooth enamel and so delays the ravages of tooth decay.

 Dates also have a high tannin content so are good for intestinal problems and in an infusion, decoction, syrup or paste can be used to ease sore throats, colds, and bronchial catarrh. Such remedies are also used to cure cystitis, gonorrhea, edema and liver problems. A paste made from the seeds is said to be good to help bring down a temperature. A gum from the slit tree trunk is used in India to cure diarrhoea, as a diuretic and a remedy for genito-urinary diseases. A decoction of the roots can cure toothache.

If you soak dates in water for some hours, and drink the water after a night’s drinking, it is said that the water will stop inebriation, (perhaps it’s a hangover cure!). If you are worried about your stamina during sexual intercourse, then dates can help. Soak a handful of dates in a glass of goat’s milk and leave them over night, in the morning, grind the dates in the same milk and add powdered cardamom seeds and honey. Apparently this works well for men and women who suffer from vaginal dryness.

In North Africa, Ghana and the Ivory Coast date palms are tapped for their sweet sap which is used to make palm sugar, molasses and alcoholic drinks. However the Phoenix sylvestris (Phoenix of the woods) is normally used for these purposes, as these palms are not valued highly for their fruit.

In cookery dates are used to garnish sweet dishes in salads and stuffed as appetizers. Try stuffing them with mascarpone and the rolling them I chopped pistachios or almonds.

1onion, finely chopped
1 cucumber, sliced
1 tomato, peeled and finely chopped
4 lettuce leaves, shredded
1 carrot, grated
3 radishes, finely sliced
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsps mayonnaise
1 tbsp olive oil
4 walnuts, crushed
6 dates, stone removed and cut into quarters
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Put all the ingredients except for the olive oil and mayonnaise into a large bowl and toss.

Mix the oil and mayonnaise in a cup and stir quickly of whisk in a small bowl. Pour this onto the salad and mix well.

Put in the fridge and serve chilled.

This has Taste and is a Treat.

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