The familiar fruit known as dates are called "khajoor" or khajur" in Hindi and Urdu. Dates have been a staple food cultivated in the Indus Valley as well as the Middle East for thousands of years. Dates have deep significance in many cultures as they are mentioned over fifty times in the Christian Bible and twenty times in the Holy Koran. Fossil records show that the date palm has existed for at least 50 million years.
The date palm is also known as Phoenix dactylifera and is a flowering plant species in the palm family, Arecaceae. Reaching a height of seventy to seventy five feet date palms grow singly or form a clump with several stems from a single root system. The date palm is dioecious, having separate male and female plants and is naturally wind pollinated. In traditional oasis horticulture and in modern commercial orchards date palm are all pollinated manually. Manual pollination is done by skilled laborers on ladders or by use of a wind machine.
The English word "date" derives from the ancient Greek word "dáktulos" meaning "finger." Dates ripen in four stages, which are known by their Arabic names kimri (unripe), khlal (full-size, crunchy), rutab (ripe, soft), and tamr (ripe, sun-dried).
Agricultural experts estimate that there are more than 3,000 varieties of dates worldwide. In the southwestern United States only two varieties are predominantly grown: "Deglet Noor" a small, drier date primarily used in baking and the Moroccan "Medjool" which is prized for eating out of hand because of it's large size, succulence, and rich caramel flavor.
The date you'll most commonly see served at festivals and holidays in South Asia is called the "chuara" or "chohara." This type of date is grown primarily in the Sindh province of Pakistan.
|Chuara or chohara dried dates|
We also have many premium quality dates available here in South Asia that I'd never seen in the United States. These "Dabbas" dates are from the Emirates, they are small but very soft, flavorful, and sweet. That box is a full kilogram (or about 2 lbs) of premium dates for $7USD - can you believe that price?
These are "Barari" dates from Tunisia. They're still on the stem in the box and a bit drier, larger, and less sweet than the Emirati dates. My personal favorite is a hand packed variety called "Miriam" from Iran that tastes just like caramel.
"Wet pack" dates of unspecified varieties are always available at a modest price too. The bag on the left is 500 grams or about a pound for $2USD. These wet pack dates are great for cooking and baking. Date syrup as you can see on the right usually shows up in the markets around Ramadan here too. I like date syrup over vanilla ice cream.
In South Asia dates are often made into laddoos, halwas, and kheer for holidays and festivals like Diwali, Ramadan, Eid-al-Fitr, as well as weddings. One of the chutneys frequently served with chat and samosas is made from dates, tamarind, and dry ginger/soonth.
|The brown chutney is made with dates and red is tomato.|
Our own baby date palm!