Date palms are an intrinsic part of Arab life and heritage. For thousands of years, they have provided shelter, food and other necessities, as Arab Bedouins have settled in palm oases, and made use of all parts of the tree and its fruit. Palm wood and leaves were used to build houses, fences, beams, baskets, ropes and many other useful items, while the fruit itself has been a basic staple of the Arab diet, and a main source of nutrition and energy.
The UAE is one of the top 10 date palm cultivators in the world, with dates grown in royal palaces, private residences, public gardens and streets as well as commercial farms.
The date fruit is eaten in all stages of its maturity – ripe and fresh (called Khalaal), semi-matured (called rutab) and dried (called tamr).
The dried fruit could keep for long periods of time, so it provided nutrition to the Arabian Desert dwellers long after its cultivation season.
In addition, they used to further preserve it by extracting "dibs" or "date syrup" (sometimes referred to as date honey), thus ensuring that they would have a source of nutrition and energy throughout the year. They also developed novel irrigation methods (aflaaj) designed to extend the oases water to a wider geographical area, and hence increase the cultivated tree area.
Date palm cultivation originated in the Middle East and spread to North Africa, then to California, South Africa and Australia regions.
The Middle East still accounts for over 90% of date production worldwide. Today, dates are enjoyed in many forms – as whole fruit (fresh or dried), as syrup, as paste in biscuits/ cakes, as jam, as juice, etc.
Dates are enjoyed throughout the year but are especially associated with special religious occasions such as Ramadan for Muslims and Christmas for Christians.
Dates are exported from the date producing countries to almost all the world's countries in various quantities. Yet, very few people know the history of the date palm, that it is one of the oldest trees in the world, or can differentiate between the different palm or date variants.