An Introduction to the Super Fruit
The date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.) is one of the world's oldest fruit trees and is believed to have originated in the Gulf region. It has been an integral part of life and a staple food for the people of the Middle East for thousands of years. It retains great traditional and cultural value and is frequently referred to in the Holy Quran.
Saudi Arabia is home to the finest dates on earth. With an estimated 25 million palm trees, approximately 400 date varieties and over 1 million tons being produced annually, the country is the world's second largest date producer of dates and its largest consumer market per capita.
Three main date cultivar groups of date exist: Soft, Semi-Dry and Dry. Dates ripen in four stages, which are known throughout the world by their Arabic names kimri (unripe), khalal (fresh and crunchy), rutab (ripe and soft), tamr (ripe and sun-dried). Dates are supplied in a multitude of forms ranging from fresh and unaltered fruit through to processed paste and confectionery products. The versatility of the fruit plays a large role in its global popularity.
Nutritional Value of Dates
Dates are renowned as having amazing nutritional properties. They are an excellent source of carbohydrates and contain a large amount and variety of many important minerals and vitamins. The below table provides an example of the average nutritional composition of the fleshy fruit.
Date fruit Nutritional Composition (per 100 g Edible Portion) according to Morton (1987)
The easily digested nutrients found in dates offer an impressive array of health benefits along with their fantastic taste:
- They consist predominantly of simple sugars such as fructose and dextrose, and are able to replenish the body's energy supply instantly. For this reason, they are used to break the fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
- Dates are rich in dietary fiber, which prevents LDL cholesterol absorption and reduces exposure to cancer-causing chemicals in the colon.
- They contain flavonoid polyphenolic antioxidants known as tannins. Tannins are known to possess anti-infective, anti-inflammatory, and anti-hemorrhagic properties.
- Dates are an excellent source of iron (containing 0.9mg / 100g – 11% of the RDA), required for blood health
- Dates are rich in potassium (696mg / 100g – 16% of RDA), which is essential for fluid regulation in the body and offers protection against heart disease;
- They are moderate sources of vitamin-A, Beta carotene, lutein and Zea-xanthin promoting good vision and healthy mucus membranes and offering protection from cancer-causing free radicals - particularly those causing colon, prostate, breast, endometrial, lung and pancreatic cancer.
- Other minerals and vitamins - such as calcium, manganese, copper, magnesium are also biologically available through the consumption of dates and these are important for healthy bones, properly functioning nervous and muscular systems and blood clotting.
- B-complex vitamins, vitamin K, niacin, riboflavin and vitamin B-6 aid the body in metabolism and the digestion of all major macronutrients.
- In most varieties, the sugar content comprises almost entirely of inverted sugar forms (glucose and fructose), which can be extremely valuable to individuals with sucrose intolerance and diabetes.