Phoenix dactylifera (date or date palm) is a palm in the genus Phoenix, cultivated for its fruit. It probably came from the countries surrounding Iraq, though the cultivation of these trees has taken place since ancient times so this is not entirely certain. The species is widely cultivated and is naturalised in Australia, North Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, and Israel, Iran, China, Mexico and the United States (Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada and Puerto) to name a few. It grows 70–75 feet (21–23 m) tall, singly or in a clump with several stems from a single root system. The leaves are 4–6 metres (13–20 ft) long, with spines and pinnate, with about 150 leaflets; the leaflets are 30 cm (12 in) long and 2 cm (0.79 in) wide. The full span of the crown ranges from 6–10 m (20–33 ft). Phoenix dactylifera grows 70–75 feet (21–23 m) in height, growing singly or in a clump with several stems from a single root system. The leaves are 4–6 metres (13–20 ft) long, with spines and pinnate, with about 150 leaflets; the leaflets are 30 cm (12 in) long and 2 cm (0.79 in) wide. The full span of the crown ranges from 6–10 m (20–33 ft).
Dates have been a staple food in the Middle East and the Indus Valley for thousands of years. They have been grown from Mesopotamia to prehistoric Egypt, possibly as early as 4000 BCE. The Ancient Egyptians used the fruits to make date wine, and ate them at harvest. There is also archaeological evidence of date cultivation in eastern Arabia in 6000 BCE. (Alvarez-Mon 2006) and in Mehrgarh around 7000 BCE, a Neolithic civilization in what is now western Pakistan. Evidence of cultivation is continually now being found throughout the Indus Valley, including the Harappan period 2600 to 1900 BCE. Latterly, traders spread dates around South West Asia, northern Africa, and Spain. Dates were introduced into Mexico and California by the Spaniards in 1765, around Mission San Ignacio. Fossil records show that the date palm has existed for at least 50 million years.
The fruit is known as a date. Its English name (from Old French), as well as the Latin species name dactylifera, both come from the Greek word for “finger”, dáktulos, because of the fruit’s elongated shape. Dates are oval-cylindrical, 3–7 cm long, and 2–3 cm (0.79–1.18 in) diameter, and when ripe, range from bright red to bright yellow, according to variety. Dates contain a single stone about 2–2.5 cm (0.79–0.98 in) long and 6–8 mm (0.24–0.31 in) thick. Three main cultivar groups of date exist: soft (e.g. ‘Barhee’, ‘Halawy’, ‘Khadrawy’, ‘Medjool’), semi-dry (e.g. ‘Dayri’, ‘Deglet Noor’, ‘Zahdi’), and dry (e.g. ‘Thoory’). The type of fruit depends on the glucose, fructose and sucrose content.
Dates are wind pollinated but in traditional oasis horticulture and in the modern commercial orchards they are entirely pollinated manually. Natural pollination occurs with about an equal number of male and female plants. However, with assistance, one male can pollinate up to 100 females. Since the males are only used to pollinate female trees, growers plant many more female plants. Some growers do not even maintain any male plants as male flowers become available at local markets at pollination time. Manual pollination is done by skilled labourers on ladders. In Iraq the pollinator climbs the tree using a special climbing tool that wraps around the tree trunk and the climber’s back to keep him attached to the trunk while climbing. Less often the pollen may be blown onto the female flowers by a wind machine. Dates ripen in four stages, which are known throughout the world by their Arabic names kimri (unripe), khlal (full-size, crunchy), rutab (ripe, soft), tamr (ripe, sun-dried). Date palms may take 4 to 8 years before they bear fruit, and produce viable yields for commercial harvest between 7 to 10 years. Mature date palms can produce 68 to 176 kilograms (150 to 300 lb) of dates per harvest season, although they do not all ripen at the same time so several harvests are needed. To get fruit of marketable quality, the bunches of dates must be thinned and bagged or covered before ripening so that the remaining fruits grow larger and are protected from the ravages of weather and birds.
Date palms can take 4 to 8 years after planting before they will bear fruit, and produce viable yields for commercial harvest between 7 to 10 years. Mature date palms can produce 68 to 176 kilograms (150 to 300 lb) of dates per harvest season, although they do not all ripen at the same time so several harvests are required. In order to get fruit of marketable quality, the bunches of dates must be thinned and bagged or covered before ripening so that the remaining fruits grow larger and are protected from weather and pests such as birds. You are probably familiar with quite a lot of date folklore or trivia, but we thought you’d like to learn a little more! Dates have been grown as a traditional crop in Iraq, Arabia, and north Africa west to Morocco for millennia. Dates are mentioned more than 50 times in the Bible and 20 times in the Qur’an. In Islamic culture, dates and yogurt or milk are the first foods traditionally consumed for Iftar after the sun has set during Ramadan. Dates (especially Medjool and Deglet Noor) are also cultivated in America in southern California, Arizona and southern Florida in the United States and in Sonora and Baja California in Mexico.
My friend used to make a Scottish date pudding known as Clootie pudding which everyone loved but me because I am not a fan of suet, so I was really pleased to find this Australian recipe for muesli bars which I have adapted and which are a great, healthy snack!
Chia, date and cashew muesli bars
- 250g rolled oats
- 35g shredded coconut
- 40g /pumpkin seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
- 110g dried pitted dates, chopped
- 80g raw cashews, roughly chopped
- 60ml vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 175g honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
Preheat oven to 140°C or 120°C fan forced. Lightly grease and line a 20 x 30cm rectangular baking tin with baking paper. Place the rolled oats, coconut, pepitas, chia seeds, cinnamon, dates and cashews in a large bowl. Pour the oil, sugar honey and vanilla into a medium saucepan, stir over a medium heat until sugar is dissolved and the ingredients are well mixed together . Add the honey mixture to the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Add the beaten egg and mix until all the ingredients are well mixed. Using slightly wet hands, press the mixture firmly into the prepared tin. Press the mixture with the back of a spoon to get a smooth even surface. Bake in a preheated oven for 40-45 minutes, or until an even golden brown. Set aside to cool completely in the tin before removing and cutting into bars.