Date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.) is a high-energy crop, and one of the most nutritious fruits in the tropics and subtropics. Date palm is rich in sugars; palmitic and organic acids; linoleic, lauric, myristic and other fatty acids; vitamins A, B1, B2 and traces of vitamin C; niacin; potassium; calcium; iron; magnesium sulfur; phosphorus; chlorine; copper; and beta-D-glucan, a dietary fiber. Dates are a good source of phytochemicals, such as phenols and carotenoids.
With 70 percent sugar by weight, dates are referred to as “natures’ candy.” Dates are an ancient fruit used by humans since the earliest of times.
The ancient Egyptians used fresh dates, date kernels, dry myrrh and wax to form a paste that bandaged swollen limbs. The prophet Mohammed said that the direct external use of tamr (ripe date fruit) paste cured the effects of poisonous bites. Eating ripe dates at bedtime was said to remove Ascaris worms. The ancient Romans considered dates a sweet delicacy, importing them from the Arabian Peninsula and northern Africa.
In many Arabic countries, water is boiled with dates to make a sweet tea. The Bedouins and other nomads of the desert boil milk with dates to make a sweet, nutritious drink. Muslims traditionally break the Ramadan fast with dates. Culled fruits are dehydrated, ground and mixed with grain to produce a nutritious animal feed stock for camels, dogs and horses in areas where date palm is abundant, such as the Sahara.
According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) statistics, the world’s largest producer over the last five years has been Egypt, with an average production of 1.3 million metric tons, followed by Iran (just over 1 million metric tons) and Saudi Arabia (979,017 metric tons).
The medicinal properties of dates have been studied. Modern research has shown dates’ beneficial effects to liver, brain, heart, inflammation and immune health.
Clearly dates have a place of pride in snack products.
Learn more about formulating dates and other popular ingredients into snacks and bars in INSIDER’s Snacks and Bars Digital Magazine.
Sudhir Ahluwalia is a former member of the Indian Forest Service. He has also been management consulting head of Tata Consultancy Services, an IT outsourcing company in Asia, business advisor to multiple companies and columnist. He is the author of “Holy Herbs: Modern Connections to Ancient Plants." He is also working on a video book series on herbs. "The First Frankincense: An Ancient Resin" is already available on Amazon and the second one Ginseng–An Adaptogen should be up shortly.