There is still debate over the legend of the tree of knowledge.
Which is the forbidden fruit that sacked us out of the Garden of Eden? Most academicians agree that it is the fig, believed to be the oldest fruit in the world.
The pear has its enthusiasts as the fruit that Satan suggested to Eve and Eve generously offered to Adam. Forget about the apple. That claim appeared only recently after the publication of John Milton’s poem, “Paradise Lost”, 350 years ago, and even there it was only mentioned twice, but “fruit” was mentioned frequently.
It is evident that the idea appealed to most and it stuck.
What is another ancient fruit that Adam and Eve could have found irresistible? Our guess is the date.
There is doubt, however, that the tree of knowledge was the date palm or the angel Gabriel would not have suggested to Adam that he taste the flesh of the fruit (Genesis).
That leads to one conclusion — they existed then.
However, they are steeped in mystery. The exact origin of the date palms is considered lost in antiquity. Claims of 50 million year-old fossils have been found in Mesopotamia, which brings us directly to the Prophet Abraham, who was born and raised in the city of UR, Mesopotamia, (present-day Iraq), were date palms were grown abundantly. The date was a favourite of Abraham’s, who loved the palm and its fruit. That left a lasting influence on the three Abrahamic religions.
Where the date palm originated is still unknown. Although widely cultivated they have never found a truly wild plant. Its progenitor or related ancestry is believed to be from Phoenicia, Northern Africa and India, a hybrid of tropical plants.
Part of the Levant area was known to Romans and Greeks as Phoenicia, meaning “land of palm”.
The Hebrew name for the date palm is tamr, as it is in Arabic. It became a symbol of grace and elegance. Is there any tree more graceful than the palm softly swaying in the breeze of a western wind? Jewish girls are often called Tamar or Tamara, a tribute to their grace and stately carriage.
The spreading of the date palm and its cultivation occurred during the past centuries, following two distinct directions: starting from Mesopotamia to Iran, reaching the valley of the Indus, and Pakistan; and starting from Egypt to Libya, Morocco, and Sahel countries.
From the Old World it was introduced to the New World in the early 19th century, and now dates are grown commercially in the Near East, North Africa, and the American continent.
Egypt is the largest producer of dates today.
It is unthinkable to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan without the presence of this ancient, mysterious, irresistible fruit — sweetest of all fruits.
It is hard to believe that the date is a very complete food, so rich in nutrients. The date palm is one of the greatest producer of foods per hectare.
Do not be turned off by it high sugar content, the sugar in dates is glucose and fructose, important for persons who cannot tolerate sucrose. Diabetics are happy to get their sugar fix from the date.
While it is high in calories, more than meat and wheat bread, it is also higher in fibre and its sugar is immediately absorbed by the human body without being subjected to the digestion of ordinary sugar, thus helping the body’s blood glucose levels return to normal. It also contains two per cent protein, little fat, a high content of magnesium, and lots of potassium, calcium and iron. With only one mg of sodium per 100 grams of dates, it is highly recommended for low sodium diets.
No, we are not neglecting its vitamin content. It contains Vitamin A, B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), and B7 (niacid). Fresh dates contain Vitamin C.
It is a mine of minerals in itself. Its phosphorous content alone equals that of apricots, pears, and grapes combined.
Date consumers in Saharan areas are known to have the lowest rate of cancer diseases.
Perhaps these are not reasons enough to eat dates, but think of the incomparable moist sweetness that makes it the star fruit of all time.
Why we do not consume it all year long is beyond comprehension.
However, one cannot think of Ramadan without the date.
Steeped in religious traditions, Prophet Mohamed encouraged the consumption of dates. He himself would break his fast at sunset by eating one or two dates, then he would attend to his prayers before he sat down for his Iftar meal.
Therefore, it has a spiritual meaning when it is the first thing eaten after a day of fasting.
Moroccans cook almost everything with dates during Ramadan, so you cannot escape getting your due portion.
We have discovered some of the mysteries that make dates the ideal healthy choice for fuelling an empty stomach.
Not only humans love dates, but horses, dogs, and camels also enjoy them on their long desert trips. Dates treat constipation, diarrhea, and intestinal disorders.
The West has exploited dates even more by making date bread, jams, jellies, caramels, butters, spreads, and more.
The first International Festival of Dates was held in Coachella Valley, California.
Time to replace the apple with “A date a day, keeps the doctor away.”
“If heaven drops a date, open your mouth.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 May, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly