Nope, sorry, this isn’t some sort of Middle Eastern lonely hearts club. It is in fact an oh-so-brief (think speed-dating) guide to the different types of phoenix dactylifera (dates to you) on the market. For dates are, after all, the original, all-healthy, all-singing, growing-on-a-tree-near-you snackeroony. And with Ramadan coming up*, Snackistani shops near you will be filling with dates of all different shapes and sizes. Well, actually they’re all the same shape – but there are vast differences in the various types on sale. Dates are seen as the ideal food with which to break fast, you see: they are packed full of nutritious stuff. Anyway, if you succumb to the urge to purchase Snackistan itself, you will see that I wax lyrical about dates at length therein…
There are literally dozens of cultivars of dates, but there are perhaps only four that are well known in the ‘West’. The swankiest one is the medjool date (centre above), grown in North Africa and California. He’s plump, sweet and usually quite expensive.
Saudi Arabian dates are extremely popular. Fresh ones are sold, still-yellow, not-quite-ripened, still on the bough in the Summer months. They are kind of bitter sweet, and an acquired taste. But dried Saudi dates (mostly known as Khudry dates) are quite different: dark and sweet and very sticky.
The best known (at least in the UK) are the ‘deglet noor’ style of date (on the left in the picture): think of your grandpa’s Christmas stocking, Eat Me dates, Christmas… These are the dates on your childhood, small, light in colour, sticky and equipped with a silly plastic spear. These dates grow widely across Northern Africa, and are usually the cheapest on the market.
My Iranian husband pays me to tell everyone that Iranian dates are the best. I happily pocket the money of course: but really I don’t need to be persuaded. Iranian mozafati Bam** dates (on the right above) are probably the best in the world. (Never did understand though why said husband refused to let me sign-write his van with the words “For the hottest dates in town, ask the driver”…) Super-soft, dark, chocolatey, indecently sweet and fairly modestly priced. They are very fresh, and unusually for dates need to be kept cool. The dried dates (top right) are also Iranian and are known as Zahedi dates: they are not so well known, but are awesome as they taste of honey (and we sell them so I may as well plug them, no?).
So now you know. Next time the conversation lags while you’re out on a (real) hot date, you can dazzle with your fruity general knowledge (whilst carefully avoiding any fnaar fnaar moments of course).
*This year it is expected to run from around 9th July – 9th August – depending of course on the sighting of the new moon.
**Bam. Yes that’s right: the town in the South East of Iran that was so badly hit by the 2004 earthquake. Although the town’s famous ancient citadel was mostly destroyed, Bam’s main source of income, its date palms, survived.