If you’ve been to the Middle East, then you’ve probably noticed how locals are fond of eating dates and often serve them to guests or kids on special occasions and very prevalent during Ramadan Iftar season. You may also think that dates are only part of Arab hospitality or tradition, but did you know that dates hold a special meaning in Middle Eastern culture? Dates, in fact, are considered as “holy fruits” in the Middle East.
Aside from their sweet and savoury taste, dates are also rich with different kinds of nutrients, making it an excellent snack, a gift to bring on special occasions, or as a treat given to kids in the Middle East.
And because dates are considered a premium product in the Middle East, locals and foreigners are keen on getting their hands on this special snack. If you wish to find out where to buy dates when in the UAE, continue reading the following sections.
When in the UAE or in any country in the Middle East, you’d find dates in supermarkets, souks, shopping malls, and even right at the airport. And for us to further appreciate this popular Middle Eastern treat below are some important information you need to know about dates.
What are Dates?
Dates are the fruit of date palm trees, which are native to most parts of the region. Date palm trees can grow up to 21 to 23 meters high, with leaves extending up to four to six meters in length. These trees have been grown in the arid region since the ancient times for their sweet and tasty fruit.
If you’ve never tried eating dates, you can eat them fresh from the tree. Alternatively, dates can also be dried and preserved for a long time – typically enjoyed as jam or as a part of a sweet delicacy. As for its nutritional content, dates are known to be a rich source of fibre, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and other essential nutrients!
Other than for its nutritional and delicious taste, dates also have religious and cultural connotations in the Middle East. Interestingly, this fruit has been mentioned in the Qur’an, the Holy Book of Islam. Also, During Ramadan, Muslims end or “break” their fast by eating a few pieces of dates, as the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) used to do.
In Middle Eastern culture, dates also represent abundance, generosity, and gratitude, making it a nice gift for any occasion. Also, for this reason, Arab families typically serve dates to relatives, friends, and colleagues who visit their home.
14 Varieties of Dates
Another interesting fact you ought to know about dates is that it has over 200 varieties – each unique in size, colour, shape and taste. That said, there are still some varieties that are more commonly cultivated than others. Here are some of the most popular varieties in the Middle East:
- Barhi Dates (also “Barhee”) are among the more popular varieties that are best enjoyed fresh instead of dried. It is known for having thick flesh and a rich, delicious flavour.
- Dayri Dates. This variety originates from Basra in Iraq; Dayri (also “Derrie”) is a soft, long and red-coloured date. Over time, its colour changes from red to brown, and then to black. Although it also tastes sweet, this particular variety does not have a strong, rich flavour. This makes it an excellent ingredient for sweet as well as savoury dishes.
- Deglet Noor Dates. This particular variety of dates has a sweet taste and “semi-dry” consistency. A fun fact about the Degler Noor Dates – its name translates to “Date of the Light” because of the golden colour of the fruit’s centre when held up to the sun. See it for yourself!
- Halawi Dates. Halawi (also “Halawi” or “Halwa”) is a small, soft, and very sweet type of date. Its name “halawi” translates to “sweet” in Arabic.
- Khadrawy Dates. Khadrawy (also “Khadrawi”) is a variety of date that is soft, with colours ranging from orange brown to light brown. And because of its soft texture and delicious flavour, most people prefer to eat it fresh.
- Khudri Dates. This variety of date originates from Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It has a dark brown colour and has a smooth texture. It is also mildly sweet in flavour making it an enjoyable light snack, and sometimes used as a sugar substitute. It’s the perfect snack with little to no ramifications!
- Fard Dates. This variety of dates is typically common in Oman, Fard (also “Fardh”). It has dark brown, tender skin, with a small seed and sweet flavour.
- Medjool Dates. This variety of date is native to Jordan, Morocco, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia. Medjool (also “Medjul” or “Madjool”) has a sweet flavour, with golden to reddish-brown skin and soft yet fibrous texture.
- Mazafati Dates. This variety originates from Bam, which is a city in Kerman, Iran. These are soft and fleshy dates with a dark brown colour, with the fruit measuring about 2.4-4 centimetres long. Mazafati dates are best enjoyed as a snack though these can also be used in making sweet treats.
- Piarom Dates. This type of date offers a sweet taste and comes with thin, dark skin. The fruit is known to have high amounts of fructose, which makes it a great alternative for sugar and is good for people with diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Rabbi Dates. Considered as one of the oldest and most flavourful varieties of dates, Rabbi dates are native to cities in Sistan Baluchistan, Iran. Growing to about 3 to 5 centimetres long, the fruit is sweet and fleshy, and comes with a nice soft texture that melts in your mouth. These dates make for great snacks, and can be enjoyed as sweet additions to bread, candy bars, cereals, ice cream, and pudding.
- Safawi Dates. Native to Madinah, Saudi Arabia, Safawi dates are known to have dark, cherry-brown colour and intense, sweet flavour. They are not only great snacks, but are known to aid in digestion and help treat anaemia as well as intoxication.
- Sukkary Dates. This variety originates from the Al Qassim region. Sukkary dates are commonly referred to as “queen of dates” for its golden colour and sweet, delicious flavour. Its name was derived from the Arabic word “sukkur” which means sugar. How sweet!
- Zahidi Dates. These are medium-sized dates that come with a light brown colour and a rich, nutty flavour. They are also eaten to prevent indigestion as well as for improving vision and memory. The term “zahidi” means “of a small quality” or “nobility” in Arabic.
5 Best Places to Buy Dates in the UAE
Whether you’re in the capital or other Emirati cities in the UAE, there are plenty of places you can go to satisfy your craving for dates. Here are some of the most common places you can find them:
- Grocery Supermarkets
If you drop by grocery supermarkets such as LuLu and Carrefour – both of which are huge supermarket chains in the Middle East – you can get different brands of packed or packaged dates you can immediately snack on or take home.
- Souks or Markets
Meanwhile, if you’d rather munch on some fresh or freshly-picked dates, souks or traditional markets are the best place to be. Other than fresh dates, you can also find other popular products in the region such as textiles, jewellery, perfumes, and souvenirs.
- Duty Free Shops
If you’re planning to buy dates as a travel gift or souvenir for your loved ones, you can get them in large amounts at Duty Free shops at the airport. So if you don’t have time to shop for individual gifts or snacks, you can easily shop for branded and packed dates while you’re at the airport.
- Bateel Dates Gourmet Shop
If you’re not familiar about the places in the UAE, Bateel is one of the more popular café and gourmet dates shops in the country. They sell over 20 varieties of dates including Khudri, Medjool, and Sukkary. Other than premium dates, you can also get delicious almond and hazelnut bars.
- Online Stores
And if you’re someone who’d rather stay at home and do your shopping online, you’d be pleased to find out that there are lots of online platforms such as Amazon.ae, Dubai Store, Carrefour UAE, Fresh Fruit Mart, Kibsons, and Spinneys, among many others. You can easily fill up your cart with all the dates that you want whether you’re on your mobile phone or surfing the web on your laptop or PC.
5 Popular Brands of Dates in the UAE
As there are different kinds of dates you can choose from, sometimes it can be easier to go for a trusted brand that you enjoy the most. Here are some of the more popular date brands in the UAE:
- Al Barakah Dates. With over 30 years in the business of packaging and processing of whole dates and whole date products, Al Barakah is one of the most trusted brands of dates in the UAE.
- Bateel Dates. The premium café and gourmet dates shop offers a wide selection of snack and treats including premium-quality dates, butter cookies, chocolates, almond and hazelnut bars, and other gifting choices.
- Bayara Dates. Carrying the trademark of Gyma Food Industries, which is one of the most popular brands in the food industry in the UAE, Bayara offers over 1,200 products including dates, dried fruits, nuts, and spices.
- Date Crown. Being one of the first retail brands of the Al Foah Group, Date Crown has also been one of the fastest-growing and leading date brands in the world, offering a wide selection of products in over 35 countries today.
- Jomara Dates. Zahdan Group’s Jomara dates are cultivated at the Jomara date groves located in Al Ghat, Saudi Arabia. The brand offers more than 20 varieties of dates such as Khudri, Medjool, and Sukkary. And they also offer other treats and products including date jams, date chocolates, and date drinks.
Common Date Combinations and Gourmet Products
Aside from fresh and packaged dates, there are several other products that are made from this fruit such as:
- Date vinegar;
- Date delicacies;
- Dates with fruits;
- Date gourmet drinks;
- Dates with chocolates (g. white, dark chocolate); and
- Dates with nuts (g. almonds, pecans, cashews, pistachios, and walnuts).
- Date jams;
- Date oil;
- Date paste;
- Date syrup;
9 Health Benefits of Eating Dates
Other than for cultural purposes, eating dates have additional value for people from the Middle East because of the health benefits that come with it:
- Rich in protein. Dates are a great source of protein, which is important for keeping our muscles and bodies fit. That said, did you know that many fitness enthusiasts eat two dates a day as part of their health routine?
- High in Iron. Another important nutrient that can be found in dates is iron. Iron is an essential nutrient that keeps us healthy, fatigue-free, and high-functioning throughout the day.
- Rich in Vitamins. Dates are a natural source of Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, and C. They also are a rich source of natural sugars like fructose, glucose, and sucrose. Pop one in your mouth and notice how your energy will get back up when you’re feeling tired.
- Improves Bone Health. Dates are loaded with plenty of minerals such as copper, magnesium, manganese, and selenium – all of which can help keep our bones healthy, while preventing osteoporosis and other bone-related conditions.
- Strengthens Nervous System. Along with other minerals, dates are also an excellent source of potassium which helps boost the function of the nervous system, while helping regulate cholesterol in the body, and keeping the risk of stroke at bay.
- Lowers blood cholesterol. Because dates are an excellent source of fibre, eating these helps get rid of cholesterol in the blood. Plus, they’re extremely low on fat. So, you can say it’s the perfect snack for those who want to stay fit and healthy.
- Helps improve digestion. Owing to their high-fibre content, eating dates can help alleviate constipation and other digestion problems.
- Helps gain muscle mass. For those who wish to put on a couple of pounds, you know what to snack on – dates! Eating a couple of pieces every day will provide your body with protein, vitamins, and sugars that are all important in gaining healthy weight.
- Improves skin health. Dates are rich in vitamin C and D, which help improve skin texture and elasticity. Moreover, dates are rich in antioxidants and contain anti-ageing components that can help prevent the accumulation of melanin, a component that is responsible for pigmentation or skin darkening.
With so many varieties and different ways to eat dates, you can only imagine why people from the Middle East consider them a ‘complete’ snack, considering all of their health and nutritional benefits. So, on your next visit in the UAE, make sure to grab a couple of bags to share with your friends and loved ones back home!