GETTING INTO RHYTHM.... An Emirati music band performs during the Ajman Liwa Dates festival. For Emiratis, date harvesting season is a celebration of local culture.
Ancient cultures referred to date palms as "trees of life".
Dates are associated with the culture, heritage and history of the UAE and the Arab world. Every type of dates has its own taste and story for the UAE nationals, who consider the harvesting season of dates as a festival.
Saleh Mohamed Al Geziry, director-general of the Ajman Tourism development Department which organised the Ajman Liwa Date Festival, said that the harvesting season is a celebration of traditional Emirati culture.
The date palm tree is grown in extreme climates and terrain and had important significance for people in the Middle East who led nomadic life. The fruit's long life when dried, coupled with its nutritional value, made dates a perfect food for people who had to move from place to place. Ancient cultures referred to date palms as "trees of life" and they remained a critical food source for nomadic people across the globe.
Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Ajman, the festival is a major tourism event for Ajman. It provides residents and visitors with a unique opportunity to learn more about the importance of date palm trees, the farming industry and types of produce grown in the country.
Abdullah Al Muhairi, a farmer, said that date palm trees thrive in sand, clay and other heavy soils. A moderate degree of salinity is not harmful but excessive salt will affect growth and lower the quality of the fruit.
Another farmer who is participating in the festival explained that the date palm has separate male and female plants. They can be easily grown from seed, but only 50 percent of seedlings will be female and hence fruit-bearing. Most of the commercial plantations use cuttings of heavily cropping date palms.
Dates are available year-round, but because they are harvested in fall and early winter they are freshest at this time.
They ripen in four stages, which are known throughout the world by their Arabic names kimri (unripe), khalal (full-size, crunchy), ratab (ripe, soft), tamr (ripe, sun-dried).
Leila Al Shamsi, exhibitor at the festival, said that dry or soft dates are used in a great variety of ways.
Khalid Ibrahim Al Amri, agricultural expert at Ajman Liwa Dates Festival, said that there are more than 200 varieties of dates which have more potassium than a banana and more antioxidants than blueberries. They are good sources of iron and potassium; a fair source of calcium, chlorine, copper and magnesium; and a minor source of phosphorus. In addition, dates are a source of 16 amino acids as well as vitamins A and B.
More photos: A date with Emirati heritage