The fruit is known as a date. The fruit's English name (through Old French), as well as the Latin species name dactylifera, both come from the Greek word for "finger", dáktulos, because of the fruit's elongated shape. Dates are oval-cylindrical, 3–7 cm long, and 2–3 cm (0.79–1.18 in) diameter, and when ripe, range from bright red to bright yellow in colour, depending on variety. Dates contain a single stone about 2–2.5 cm (0.79–0.98 in) long and 6–8 mm (0.24–0.31 in) thick. Three maincultivar groups of date exist: soft (e.g. 'Barhee', 'Halawy', 'Khadrawy', 'Medjool'), semi-dry (e.g. 'Dayri', 'Deglet Noor', 'Zahdi'), and dry (e.g. 'Thoory'). The type of fruit depends on the glucose, fructose and sucrose content.
The date palm is dioecious, having separate male and female plants. They can be easily grown from seed, but only 50 percent of seedlings will be female and hence fruit bearing, and dates from seedling plants are often smaller and of poorer quality. Most commercial plantations thus use cuttings of heavily cropping cultivars. Plants grown from cuttings will fruit 2–3 years earlier than seedling plants.
Dates are naturally wind pollinated but in both traditional oasis horticulture and in the modern commercial orchards they are entirely pollinated manually. Natural pollination occurs with about an equal number of male and female plants. However, with assistance, one male canpollinate up to 100 females. Since the males are of value only as pollinators, this allows the growers to use their resources for many more fruit producing female plants. Some growers do not even maintain any male plants as male flowers become available at local markets at pollination time. Manual pollination is done by skilled labourers on ladders. In some areas such as Iraq the pollinator climbs the tree using a special climbing tool that wraps around the tree trunk and the climber's back to keep him attached to the trunk while climbing. Less often the pollen may be blown onto the female flowers by a wind machine.
Parthenocarpic cultivars are available but the seedless fruit is smaller and of lower quality.
Dates ripen in four stages, which are known throughout the world by their Arabic names kimri (unripe), khlal (full-size, crunchy), rutab (ripe, soft), tamr (ripe, sun-dried).
Dates are an important traditional crop in Iraq, Arabia, and north Africa west to Morocco. Dates are also mentioned more than 50 times in the Bible and 20 times in the Qur'an. In Islamic culture, dates and yogurt or milk are traditionally the first foods consumed for Iftar after the sun has set during Ramadan. Dates (especially Medjool and Deglet Noor) are also cultivated in America in southern California, Arizona and southern Florida in the United States and in Sonora and Baja California inMexico.
Date palms can take 4 to 8 years after planting before they will bear fruit, and produce viable yields for commercial harvest between 7 to 10 years. Mature date palms can produce 68 to 176 kilograms (150 to 300 lb) of dates per harvest season, although they do not all ripen at the same time so several harvests are required. In order to get fruit of marketable quality, the bunches of dates must be thinned and bagged or covered before ripening so that the remaining fruits grow larger and are protected from weather and pests such as birds.
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Date palm orchard, Boumalne, Morocco
A large number of date cultivars are grown. The most important are:
- Aabel — common in Libya.
- Ajwah — from the town of Medina in Saudi Arabia, it is the subject of a famous Hadith.
- Al-Barakah — from Saudi Arabia.
- Amir Hajj or Amer Hajj — from Iraq, these are soft with a thin skin and thick flesh, sometimes called "the visitor's date" because it is a delicacy served to guests.
- ʿAbid Rahim (Arabic: عبد رحيم) — from Sudan. In Nigeria it is called Dabino and is commonly used by Nigerian Muslims to break their Ramadan fast.
- Barakawi (Arabic: بركاوي) — from Sudan.
- Barhee or barhi (from Arabic barh, meaning "a hot wind") — these are nearly spherical, light amber to dark brown when ripe; soft, with thick flesh and rich flavour. One of the few varieties that are good in the khalal stage when they are yellow (like a fresh grape as opposed to dry, like a raisin).
- Bireir (Arabic: برير) — from Sudan.
- Datça — in Turkey
- Deglet Noor (Tunisian Arabic: دڨلة نور — so named because the centre appears light or golden when held up to the sun. This is a leading date in Libya, Algeria, the USA, and Tunisia, and in the latter country it is grown in inland oases and is the chief export cultivar. It is semi-dry and not very sweet.
- Derrie or Dayri (the "Monastery" date) — from southern Iraq — these are long, slender, nearly black, and soft.
- Empress — developed by the DaVall family in Indio, California, United States, from a seedling of Thoory. It is large, and is softer and sweeter than Thoory. It generally has a light tan top half and brown bottom half.
- Fardh or Fard — common in Oman, deep dark brown, tender skin, sweet flavor, small seed. Keeps well when well packed.
- Ftimi or Alligue — these are grown in inland oases of Tunisia.
- Holwah (Halawi) (Arabic for: sweet) — these are soft, and extremely sweet, small to medium in size.
- Haleema — in Hoon, Libya (Haleema is a woman's name).
- Hayany (Hayani) — from Egypt ("Hayany" is a man's name) — these dates are dark-red to nearly black and soft.
- Honey — unknown
- Iteema — common in Algeria.
- Kenta — common in Tunisia.
- Khadrawi or Khadrawy (Arabic: 'green') — a cultivar favoured by many Arabs, it is a soft, very dark date.
- Khalasah (Arabic for: quintessence) — one of the most famous palm cultivars in Saudi Arabia, famous for its sweetness level that is not high nor low, thus, suits most people. Its fruit is called Khlas. Its famous place is Hofuf (Al-Ahsa) and Qatifin the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia (ash-Sharqīyah).
- Khastawi (Khusatawi, Kustawy) — this is the leading soft date in Iraq; it is syrupy and small in size, prized for dessert.
- Maktoom (Arabic for: hidden) — this is a large, red-brown, thick-skinned, soft, medium-sweet date.
- Manakbir — a large fruit that ripens early.
- Medjool or (Mejhool) (Arabic: مجهول "unknown") — from Morocco, also grown in the USA, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestinian Territories andIsrael; a large, sweet and succulent date.
- Migraf (Mejraf) — very popular in Southern Yemen, these are large, golden-amber dates.
- Mgmaget Ayuob — from Hun, Libya.
- Mishriq (Arabic: مشرق "east") — from Sudan and Saudi Arabia.
- Mozafati — (Farsi "Suburban/Peripheral)" from Iran, where it is mainly grown in Kerman province, and often named "Bam date", after the cityin that province. It is a dark, soft and sweet date of medium size. It is exceptionally well-suited for fresh consumption, because of its long shelf life. At a temperature of −5 degrees Celsius (23 °F) it can be kept for up to 2 years. It accounts for 10% of total Iranian date crop. (100,000 tons , of which 30% is exported).
- Nabtat-seyf — in Saudi Arabia.
- Rotab — from Iran, they are dark and soft.
- Sag‘ai — from Saudi Arabia.
- Saidy (Saidi) — soft, very sweet, these are popular in Libya.
- Sayer (Sayir) (Arabic for: common) — these dates are dark orange-brown, of medium size, soft and syrupy.
- Sukkary — (lit. sugary) (Arabic: سكري) Dark brown skin; distinctly sweet and soft flesh, from Saudi Arabia, it is the most expensive kind.
- Sellaj — (Arabic: سلّج) in Saudi Arabia.
- Tagyat — common in Libya.
- Tamej — in Libya.
- Thoory (Thuri) — popular in Algeria, this dry date is brown-red when cured with a bluish bloom and very wrinkled skin. Its flesh is sometimes hard and brittle but the flavour described as sweet and nutty.
- Umeljwary — in Libya.
- Umelkhashab — Brilliant red skin; bittersweet, hard white flesh (Saudi Arabia).
- Zahidi (Arabic for: [Of the] ascetic) — these medium size, cylindrical, light golden-brown semi-dry dates are very sugary, and sold as soft, medium-hard and hard.
- Zaghloul (Arabic: زغلول) — Dark red skin, long, and very crunchy when fresh (when they are typically served); extremely sweet, with sugar content creating a sense of desiccation in the mouth when eaten. The variety is essentially exclusive to Egypt, where it is subject to an element of nationalist sentiment on account of sharing a name with national hero Saad Zaghloul.
The Gaza Strip, especially Deir al-Balah ("Village of Dates"), is known for its exceptionally sweet red dates. There are more than 100 known cultivars inIraq. It should be noted, however, that a cultivar can have several names depending on the locality.