THE UAE, which is home to 20 per cent of date palms in the world, has earned the distinction of being one of the largest producers of dates in the region.
Dates have always been a staple food for the Arabs of the Gulf as well as an export crop, whether packaged or fresh. As a raw material, dates are also used to make liquid sugar, vinegar and dibs (an indigenous honey made from the juice) as well as a constituent in some animal feeds. Other than the fruit itself, almost every part of the tree is put to use. The leaves are often dyed and then plaited into mats, trays or baskets. The wooden stalks are used for roofing the barasti huts which are constructed from the palm trunks, the twine and rope which ties the whole structure together is made from fibers. The palm date can really provide home and board on its own.
Normally, Dates are free of pesticide contamination and may be marketed as organic food.
They have a desirable sugar/acid ratio that provides a fruity/sweet taste and flavour enhancing qualities.
Dates act as humactants due to the presence of reducing sugar, fructose, which helps in extending shelf life and freshness of snack foods and chocolate bars.
When mixed with dough it keeps the softness quality of the bread.
Date paste is a natural extrudable product easily incorporated as a filler in bakery products and displaces the need for artificial preservatives and additives
Date paste can be easily shaped and binds ingredients together, like nuts, grains and other snack bar ingredients.
Date syrup or paste is a common ingredient of certain halwa.
Syrup extracted from Dates has a higher sweetening (taste) power than sucrose and is therefore suitable as a refined sugar replacement with a lower total calorie level.
The syrup is also a better source of than sports drinks
Animal feed with very high overall dietary value and low waste content
Date seed ground as food for fish farms
In UAE, the Abu Dhabi Emirate is by far the largest producer of Dates. There is said to be approximately 16 mill Date Palms in the Emirate with approximately 4 mill in the remaining six Emirates. Of Abu Dhabi’s 16 million, only 6 million are currently producing. A huge number of the above are young date palms growing on the many hundreds of new farms created at the instruction of Sheikh Zayed. These palms will not produce significant crops for another 3 to 5 years, when they do, based on the figure of 16 million, UAE’s production could match that of Saudi Arabia.
Of special interest to readers would be the number of producing date palms in the various Oasis of Al Ain region. There is a total of 1.108 million producing palms in the region extending to Al Khazna on the Abu Dhabi Road and to centres such as Al Hayer and Al Faqar in the Dubai direction. Al Ain has 24 separate districts and there are new farms being added in places like Mubazzarah, below Jebel Hafeet, where the palms will not come into significant production until 2005. At that stage, the Al Ain region may produce 4 to 5 times what it does now.
Al Ain Oasis has 60,000 palms and Al Jimmi/Qattara Oasis has 103,000. Within the streets of Al Ain there would be approx. 25,000Date Palms all of which are harvested and contribute to the overall regional crop.
There are more than 600 varieties, including cultivars, grown world-wide and different countries have their favourites.
In UAE the preferred fruit is Khalas but others such as Zaghloul, Khuneizi, Hilali, Howaiz, Naghal and Jaberi Fardh, have their followings. They have different colours, flavours, sweetness, acidity and textures.
A popular imported variety, mainly from Morocco, is Majool, which is a very large fruit. All major date producing countries have their own cultivars and favoured varieties, such as:
Amir Hajj and Ashrashi from Iraq;
Saidy and Hayany from Egypt,
Deglet Noor and Thoory from Algeria.
Ruzeiz, Bukeira, Nebut, Seif and Barhi from Oman.
You should make a point of checking the markets and the specialist date shops to identify different varieties and their flavours.
Date, Dried-cherry, and Chocolate Torte
1 cup Deglet Noor or Medjool dates (6 oz), pitted and each cut into 6 pieces
1/2 cup Black Sphinx or Medjool dates (3 oz), pitted and each cut into 6 pieces
1 cup dried cherries (preferably tart; 6 oz)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup boiling water
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4cup) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon finely grated fresh orange zest
6 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), coarsely chopped
3/4 cup pecans (4 1/2 oz), finely chopped
Combine dates, cherries, and baking soda in a heatproof bowl, then stir in boiling water.
Whisk together flour, cocoa, and salt.
Beat together butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until just combined. Beat in vanilla and zest. Add half of flour mixture and beat at low speed until just combined. Add date mixture with liquid and beat at low speed until just combined. Add remaining flour mixture and beat until just combined. Stir in chocolate and pecans.
Pour batter into a generously buttered 24-cm (9-inch) springform pan, smoothing top. Bake in middle of oven until center is slightly rounded and top of torte is cracked (edges will be dark brown), about 55 minutes. Let torte stand 5 minutes in pan on a rack. Run a sharp small knife around side of pan to loosen, then remove side. Cool torte on rack.
• Torte may be made 2 days ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.
Makes 6 to 10 servings.
Grease a 13- by 9- by 2-inch metal baking pan, then line with foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 opposite sides, and butter foil.
Whisk together flour, salt, and spices. Beat together butter and granulated sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes in a standing mixer (preferably fitted with paddle attachment) or 6 minutes with a handheld. Reduce speed to low and add eggs 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add baking soda mixture and mix until combined. Add flour mixture, walnuts, and dates and mix until just combined.
Spread batter evenly in baking pan and bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out clean, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Cool in pan on a rack 15 minutes. Carefully lift date mixture out of pan using foil overhang and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into 1-inch squares and peel from foil.
Cooks' note: • Cookies keep, layered between sheets of wax paper or parchment paper, in an airtight container at room temperature 1 week.
Makes about 9 1/2 dozen cookies.
10 min 10 min prep
1 cup pitted dates, coarsely chopped
1 quart milk
4 cups French vanilla ice cream
1 teaspoon grated fresh nutmeg
For each date shake, place 1/4 cup coarsely chopped pitted dates in a blender. Add 1 cup cold milk and 1 cup(about 2 large scoops) French vanilla ice cream.
Grate 1/4 teaspoon of fresh nutmeg into blender and blend date shake until smooth. Enjoy!