Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, starts at sundown on April 2 and ends with Eid al-Fitr on May 2. The dates change each year based on the lunar calendar. Ramadan commemorates the period when the archangel Gabriel descended from heaven to reveal a message from God to the Prophet Muhammed, Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH) This message became the basis of the Quran, the Holy Scripture of Muslim.
Ramadan marks a sacred time of reflection, prayer, charity, and fasting. Throughout the month, those of the Muslim faith must fast from sunrise to sunset – no food or drink, including water. After sundown, families, and friends gather to break fast over a meal known as Iftar.
Traditionally, sweet Medjool dates, known as “the king of dates,” are served with a glass of water to break the fast before the meal, in reverence to the teaching of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), who said, “When one of you is fasting, he should break his fast with dates, but if he cannot get any, then break his fast with water, for water is purifying.”
On a practical note, dates are a reliable source of vitamins A, B6, and K, iron, magnesium, copper, and potassium, as well as dietary fiber. Finally, the natural sugar found in dates provides restorative energy, essential after fasting all day.
Dates have a historic role in the cuisines of many Islamic countries. Their significance in the Arabic world has earned the palm date and its traditions recognition in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity which writes, “The date palm, knowledge, skills, traditions and practices have played a pivotal role in strengthening the connection between people and the land in the Arab region, helping them face the challenges of the harsh desert environment.”
Dates and date syrup offer a natural sweetener and are versatile enough to use in many recipes, savory to sweet. A personal favorite is adding chopped dates to a mesclun salad with fresh slices of apples or oranges and slivered almonds. Another is stuffing dates halves with nut butter or creamy cashew cheese (vegan).
Check out the Lamb and Date Tagine dish under ‘recipes’ in this issue.
10 Facts About Dates
- Dates are considered the oldest cultivated fruit in the world, tracing back to 6000 B.C.
- The word “date” is derived from the Greek word for “finger” (dáktulos), a nod to its elongated shape.
- Date palms were a symbol of victory in the Roman empire.
- In Morocco, the softer and sweeter Medjool dates were reserved only for the royalty and guests earning them the moniker “king of dates.”
- Date palms can grow to 75 feet tall,
- One date tree can produce 200 to 300 pounds (roughly 10,000 dates) in one harvest season,
- Medjool dates have delicate skin and must be harvested by hand.
- Dates are cultivated around the world in tropic and semi-tropical areas.
- California grows ninety-five percent of Medjool dates in the United States.
- Dates are considered a fresh fruit, not dried.