Dates, Glorious Dates
Until I started traveling in the Middle East and North Africa, I had no appreciation for dates (the fruit, that is). The lone boxes purchased to make Christmas cookies often languished well beyond their “sell by” date. Better late than never: I am now a convert.
Omanis consume dates from sun up to sunrise with the average person eating almost 1/2 pound a day. Dates are an excellent source of protein, vitamins and mineral and their high sugar content (40–80 percent) protects them against bacterial contamination and means they can be stored for years.
Oman has a population of 4.5 million people and has 8.5 million date palms producing 58 varieties and occupying approximately 85 per cent of the total area under fruit cultivation (about 50 per cent of the total agricultural land). There is archeological evidence of date cultivation in the region as early as 6000 BCE and dates are mentioned frequently in the Bible and the Koran.We spent a morning at Birkat al M0uz just outside of Nizwa , said to produce the most delicious dates in Oman. The water is provided by Aflaj irrigation, a gravity driven system that was placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2006.
Date Palms start bearing fruit after 7-8 years and a mature tree can produce over 300 pounds per year. Although harvest season was over and pollination had not yet begun, one local showed us how he scales the tree to accomplish these tasks. It requires an enormous amount of strength. coordination and balance, to say nothing of thick soles!These dates are past their prime and will be used as fertilizer or animal feed. No part of the date tree goes wasted. The wood provides an important source of building material, the leaves and fronds are used to make walls, roofs, baskets, ropes and medicines.
Wherever we went, we were offered dates and a cup of Qahwa. Custom dictates the host continue refilling the guest’s cup until the empty cup is shaken from side to side, at which point the host can imbibe. The basic recipe includes coffee, cardamon, rose water and either saffron or cinnamon and cloves. It did not do much for jet lag, as its caffeine content is low, but we enjoyed partaking in the ritual.
More on Omani cuisine in the next Foodie Friday!