What would Christmas be without dried dates? My personal Christmas favourite is to remove the date seeds and fill the void with a piece of marzipan (almond paste). However there are many more ways to enjoy dates and a remarkable variety of dates in cultivation. The biggest producer is Egypt. In Saudi Arabia there are more than 450 date cultivars and in Oman more than 200. Dates are traditionally eaten either fresh, dried or preserved in honey. Fresh dates are far less stickily sweet than dried ones but have a shorter season as they do not store well. Dried dates are available all year round and can be eaten as an accompaniment to strong coffee where the sweetness balances the bitterness of the coffee. Fresh dates are becoming more readily available in the UK now.
Two of our current students have a great interest in dates:
Widad Aljuhani has written extensively about dates in Saudi Arabia and is working for a PhD on identification techniques and sex determination in the Saudi cultivars. She provided this photograph of the annual date festival in Saudi Arabia that gives an idea of the sheer scale of date production there.
Thuraiya Al Jabri is a MSc student from Oman with a great personal and professional interest in dates and who has written an intriguing blog about the botany and cultural importance of dates in Oman. She reports on a whole range of uses for the date palm beyond fruit production. Did you know bees are kept in hollowed out date palm trunks, and that baskets and tabseel date cooking are other ways to use products of the date palm.