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Zéna Butt

Several years ago, if I had written down ‘chia seeds’, ‘goji berries’, ‘agave syrup’, ‘acai berries’ etc., chances are you would have no idea what I was talking about. Today however, these superfoods have become synonymous with health food aficionados and foodies alike. But what if I was to tell you that there is something- yep one thing- that incorporates all of the benefits of the health foods above, can be a fraction of the price and is much easier to access? I guess the title of this piece must have given it away… that’s right: the humble date.

The date is thought to have originated around Iraq and has been cultivated since ancient times from Mesopotamia to prehistoric Egypt as early as 4000 BCE. Today, the date is grown extensively in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Oman, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Yemen; whilst the Indian subcontinent and parts of West Asia may feature, their production is nowhere near as robust as the Middle East.

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Scientifically proven to relieve constipation and aid in intestinal disorders, heart problems, anaemia, sexual dysfunction and abdominal cancer, the date is often looked over when categorising super-foods. This age-old fruit is also enriched with calcium, sulphur, iron, potassium, manganese, copper and magnesium – for those of us that lack essential nutrients in our diet, or even those of us that wish to lead a more balanced lifestyle, eating one date per day could help profusely. Also high in folic acid (great for new mothers!), glucose, fructose and sucrose, dates are an excellent source of natural sugars and are ideal for a healthy afternoon pick-me-up when your energy levels are waning.

Bearing the above in mind, it is no wonder the date is touted as the ‘food of Ramadan’; this year, Ramadan falls in June – which sees people in the West fasting for 18+ hours. Being without any nutritional sustenance for such a long length of time can be debilitating and so what we opt to open our fast with is key.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is reported to have said: “If anyone of you is fasting, let him break his fast with dates. In case he does not have them, then with water. Verily water is a purifier.” – illustrating the fact that dates were the Prophet’s food of choice after a strenuous day of fasting. In fact, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is said to have eaten seven dates a day (soaked in milk) for breakfast: he is narrated as saying “whoever starts his day by eating seven dates in the morning, he will be safe against poisons and magic” – for dates detoxify the body from internal toxicants. The Prophet is also quoted as saying: “Specially blessed are the date trees. Whoever has one in his home shall have neither hunger nor poverty”.

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Such great importance is attributed to dates in Islam, the fruit is mentioned numerous times in the Qur’an but perhaps its most pertinent referral is in 55:68 where it is honoured as one of the blessings of Paradise. Let that sink in for a moment… this means, by consuming a date here on earth, we are in effect, tasting a minute fraction of the Paradise that Allah has created for his believers – how amazing!

It is estimated that there are 350 types of dates available worldwide; go to any gourmet date retailer now and you may become dizzied with the different variations on sale – but you don’t always have to eat dates in their fruit form. You can use it as a natural sweetener and add a couple to a smoothie as a substitute for sugar. Or for a homemade and healthy caramel dip, blend dates, fresh vanilla, almond butter, rock salt and maple syrup. They really are a versatile ingredient.

So when you next go to your local supermarket to do the weekly shop and are browsing in the fruit aisle, have a think when you overlook the dates because “it’s not Ramadan yet”. A lot of us are guilty of only purchasing dates in large quantities during the holy month but in doing so we are denying ourselves of so much nutritional good. #BringBackTheDate

Images by Zaytoun