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Aliya Zaidi

Ramadhan is the season of dates. Even if you don’t eat dates at any other time of the year, it’s pretty likely you’ll be eating more than a few in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.

It’s something we all remember from our earliest memories of fasting: biting into that sweet, toffee-like softness after a long day of self-control. There’s definitely lots of good reasons why dates are the prescribed choice of first bite in this holy month: not only do they boost your energy levels from natural sugars, but they are a low-GI food, which means they do not significantly raise blood-sugar levels. Dates are loaded with fibre and contain lots of vit-amins and minerals, which means that they deliver a range of nutritional benefits; in other words, a perfect food if you’ve not been eating all day.

Lately, the humble date has been undergoing some rebranding. This traditional Middle-Eastern food has been transformed from a staple in the Arab diet to a luxury product that’s rivalling chocolate and gourmet sweets as a gift option this Eid.

Last Ramadhan, I was pleasantly surprised to find gift-boxes of Chocodates in my local supermarket. Chocodates have jazzed up the traditional date by covering it in different types of chocolate and filling it with a roasted almond.

Beyond covering them in chocolate, dates are also stuffed with various flavour combinations, something that the Dubai-based Nadiya’s Dates offers. Options include dates with pistachio croquante, orange, biscuit and walnut.

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UK based Alwani Dates also offer a range of date-related gifts, including date biscuits, dates with coffee, nuts and honey or with saffron.

If you’re a real connoisseur, you can buy your dates from a handful of luxury specialists. Saudi-run company, Bateel, have pioneered the concept of gourmet date products, by mixing Arabic tradition with a contemporary European twist. With more than twenty varieties of dates in their London shop, evidently, there’s life beyond just the Medjool and Deglet Nour.

As I walk into their swanky New Bond Street shop, I’m met with a vast array of luxury foods, including premium-quality fine chocolates, mixing dates with interesting flavours such as mint ganache, praline paste and caramelised pistachio.

If you like your food with a twist, Bateel have incorporated the date into many savoury products. The concept of date pesto, date mustard, date olive tapenade and date balsamic vinegar is exciting and innovative. There’s even a sparkling date drink for those special occasions where you want to break out the alcohol-free bubbly.

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The rise of these specialist date companies means that the discerning consumer has more choice than ever, not only for opening their fast, but also for gift-giving at Eid or for serving up as appetisers at iftar and suhoor parties.

So this Ramadhan, think outside the box when you buy your dates. There’s definitely more variety out there than you might initially think. And if like me, you like adding a personal touch to your gifts, you could always dress up your dates in your own kitchen to make them a little more special.