A date with dates

Here! Try this one,” urges Ahmad Mustafa, picking up a date from a large basket.


Silvia Radan

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Published: Sat 27 Nov 2010, 9:22 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 3:52 AM

“This particular date is very good for diabetes. Taste it! It doesn’t have too much sugar,” he claims, although the “tamar”, fully ripen date, tastes quite dry and sweet.

Ahmad Mustafa is the co-owner of Azzad Dates Factory, a two year old company based in Al Ain. Various types of loose and packed dates are being displayed in his pavilion at the International Date Palm Festival, ongoing in Abu Dhabi, where Ahmad is trying to show off his products, alongside the big players in the dates industry.

“Being in the business of dates is good, but of course it takes time to grow,” he says.

“Of course, we cannot compete with Al Foah, which is the largest dates company and backed by the government, but it doesn’t mean there is no room for private dates producers like us on the market.”

Ahmad owns about 400 palm trees in Al Ain, but of course, he buys dates from dozens of farmers in the region.

“Sometimes we get people asking for dates from other regions, that is why we import some ‘khalas’ from Saudi Arabia, for example. They are more expensive, though, as it involves transport and other additional costs,” he explains.

With so many health benefits offered by this much praised fruit, no doubt that dates are just as much in demand today as they were centuries ago. Rich in natural fibres, dates contain minerals, proteins, vitamins, sugar and healthy fat, which means pretty much all that the body needs. Modern science has proven what Arabs believed long ago that dates are effective in preventing abdominal cancer, respiratory diseases and even eyesight.

“Arabs usually combine dates with milk and yogurt or bread, butter and fish,” reveals Abdulaziz Al Sibani, manager of Dates World, another company showcasing its dates product at the festival.

“This combination indeed makes a self sufficient and tasty diet for both mind and body.”

Dates World comes from Nizwa, which is a very beautiful green oasis in Oman, most famous for its dates.

Using mostly khalas and khunaizi dates, the varieties most praised in the region, Dates World has gone beyond selling fresh, simple fruit, offering different kind of madllowk (sweets made of date paste and nuts), date mamoul (pastry filled with date paste) and dates filled with nuts.

One of the world’s largest dates company, Al Foah, has gone one step further from simple dates or date sweets. The company now is selling chocolate, cakes and even ice- cream made with dates.

“For the first time this year we also did a pilot project of selling ratab – half ripen – dates. We sold about 20 tonnes, which is not very much compared to 65,000 tonnes of tamar,” says Saeed Al Hamli, general manager of Al Foah.

This year alone, the company bought 85,000 tons of dates from farmers and Al Hamli is convinced that pretty much all of it will be sold.

“Even if we have some left we will sell it as animal feed back to the farmers,” he says.

In Abu Dhabi at least, the business of dates has gone far beyond farmers and factories. Along with camel products, they are now a national symbol and a tourist attraction. Just as this Date Palm Festival, which is as much a trade platform as it is a cultural attraction, dates are an inspiration for international artists, a challenge for Michelin star chefs and a wonder for scientists and researchers.


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