A Sweet Date with Health

By Jhuma Biswas

Date is a healthy and tasty fruit, which can enrich our day-to-day diet and can add more sweetness and health to our eating out adventures. One cannot be certain about the geography of its origin, but it is commonly believed to be originated in the Fertile Crescent region, which lies between Egypt and the ancient Mesopotamia. It is also believed that the date palm tree, which bears date fruit, originated in present day Iraq.

Fertile Crescent region is also known as the ‘cradle of civilisation’, as development of writing, agriculture, glass and wheel took place there only. The area runs through many present day countries of the Middle-East and Africa such as Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Jordon, Egypt, Turkey, Iran among others. 

Date trees or date palm trees generally vary 21-23 metres in height.  The fruits are oval shaped. The colour of date fruits range  f r o m bright red to bright yellow. But most of the dates we found in India are brown in colour. Dates contain approximately 75 percent sugar when dried. 

A Rich History 

Date is not only rich in sugar but also in history. The evidence of date cultivation is close to at least nine thousand years old.  Since the beginning of human civilisation dates are having a date with us. According to Wikipedia, the archaeological evidence of date cultivation in Arabia dates to the 6th millennium BC. Evidence of date cultivation in a Neolithic civilisation goes back to 7000 BC. The fruit was the staple food in the Indus Valley Civilisation and the Middle-East for many millennia. The ancient Egyptians used to make date wine f r o m dates. 

With the development of trade, the dates spread their sweetness to Southwest Asia, Northern Africa, and Spain. Dates were introduced to Mexico and South America during the Spanish conquests. Dates were introduced in the US in the middle of the eighteenth century. 

Production, Types and Cultivation 

According to FAO, Egypt was the top producer of dates in 2016, followed by Iran, Algeria and Saudi Arabia respectively.  In India, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are the major date growing states. Lots of varieties of dates are cultivated across the world; Iraq alone has 100 kinds of dates. 

Sukkary, Zaghloul, and Mejdool are some of the many varieties of dates found across the world.  Sukkary, which is primarily cultivated in Saudi Arabia, is often regarded as the most expensive variety of dates in the world. 

However, dates can also be categorised under three broad types.  They are soft, semi-dry and dry. This differentiation is based according to glucose, fructose and sucrose content of dates. 

The date palm tree bears fruit 4-8 years after its planting. Arid and semi arid conditions are conducive for the production of date fruits. Well-drained deep sandy loam soils with the ability to hold the moisture are needed for the cultivation of dates. The pH of the soil used for date cultivation should range between 8-10. The soil should also be devoid of calcium carbonate. Low humidity, abundant sunshine, low rainfall and winter without frost help dates to grow well.

Dates Across Dishes 

Dates have wide culinary applications. Especially, the creative use of dates in bakeries in India can enhance the bakery unit’s market value in these health conscious times. Of course, dates can be delicious if eaten raw, but date cakes are no less wonderful to taste. Dates can also be pitted and stuffed with fillings such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, marzipan and with many other delicious ingredients. Date is also used in making pudding. Sticky date pudding can be a delicious dessert, if prepared well. 

Though date-nut breads are uncommon in India, but that doesn’t make them any less delicious. More of our bakeries should use dates in cakes and breads, which are sure to garner huge popularity among their consumers. As far as beverage goes, date shake can come across as a wonderfully healthy concoction, which can be supremely tasty too.

Dates are also used to make jaggery, which in turn is being used in Bengal in a sweet dish known as payesh. It is a milk-based dish. Jaggery made of dates is also used in Bengal to make out-of the-world sandesh and rasogulla. Sandesh and rosogolla are among the two most important sweets f r o m Bengal. 

According to Wikipedia, sparkling date juice is consumed in some Islamic countries for special occasions and religious times such as Ramadan. It is about time in India too date juice becomes vogue across restaurants. In southeast Spain, dates, usually pitted with fried almond, are served wrapped in bacon, and are shallow fried. Date syrup is used in Israel. 

Enriched with Health 

Date is a treasure-trove of nutrients, which makes it good for health. Dates are rich in dietary potassium. The fruit is also endowed with calcium, phosphorous, iron, sodium, magnesium and zinc. Dates are also rich in vitamins. They are devoid of cholesterol and have minimal fat.

Dates are a good source of energy as they have high content of glucose, fructose and sucrose. Thus in these hectic times, which often require more energy f r o m our body, date can be very important part of our diet.
 
Moreover, having dates in moderate quantities in diet can check the cholesterol level. They can also facilitate in weight gain for those who need it. Date being rich in dietary fiber and having insoluble fiber, may contribute towards easing constipation too, which is a morning irritant for many.  

Regular intake of dates can also keep the osteoporosis at bay. A study has also shown that consumption of dates can facilitate in reducing the risk of heart disease. Moreover, the dates are impressively endowed with potassium, which according to studies, does lower blood pressure and curtail the risk of stroke and other heart associated ailments.

So it is about time India’s food service and food retail industry start having more creative application of dates in their menu than they are doing presently, which can hold them in good stead among their consumers in this health conscious age. It is about time we translate our dates with date into a full-fledged passionate affair.

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