Date palms are a fundamental 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 date fruit is eaten in all stages of its maturity – ripe and fresh, semi-matured and dried. It contains iron, potassium, vitamin A, B, K and 15 minerals and it reduces bad cholesterol.
The dried fruit could keep for long periods of time, so it provided nutrition to the Arabian Desert dwellers long after its cultivation season. No wonder Bedouins were known to have survived on dates and camel milk. Camel milk and dates nowadays are considered two superfoods.
Bedouins used to further preserve dates 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 innovative irrigation methods designed to extend the oases water to a wider geographical area, and hence increase the cultivated tree area.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, global date production is around 7.1 million tonnes, out of which three million tonnes is produced by the world’s top 20 nations which grow date palm trees.
Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia are the top three global producers, while the UAE comes in fourth with a total production of 900 thousand tonnes.
UAE owns 33 per cent of the world’s exports of dates.
India is the largest importer of UAE dates, importing around 193 thousand tonnes (73 per cent of all UAE date exports) followed by Bangladesh, which imports 32 thousand tonnes (12 per cent of the UAE’s date exports).
UAE’s exports of dates to Europe are low, since most of the European countries import dates from Tunisia, Iran and Pakistan.
EU market is promising; therefore some efforts should be put in order to promote UAE dates varieties in Europe.