LET’S GET UP TO DATE

Do you like them chewy, sticky or dry? What­ever your pref­er­ence, af­ter try­ing 27 va­ri­eties, Arva Ahmed has got a date for you

Friday - - Ra­madan Recipe Spe­cial - PHO­TOS BY ANAS THACHARPADIKKAL

If you are look­ing to in­vest in a kilo­gram or more of dates for Ra­madan, it is more than likely that you have won­dered: What is the best kind of date? An­swer­ing this cru­cial ques­tion in time for Ra­madan war­rants a trip to the Deira Fish and Veg­etable Mar­ket to sam­ple the 27 date va­ri­eties on dis­play. But be­fore you make that trip, it is worth chew­ing on a few im­por­tant facts. Dates go through dif­fer­ent stages of ripen­ing once the fruit be­gins to de­velop. Date lingo can be far more in­tri­cate than the fruit may let on, so I turned to the ex­perts for help. Fares Su­mairi, mar­ket­ing man­ager of Al Ain-based date com­pany Al Foah, ex­plains that dates tran­si­tion from the ined­i­ble green kha­laal to three ed­i­ble phases: the red-yel­low besr, the translu­cent moist rutab, and the fi­nal dry and wrin­kled tamar stage. As the fruit ripens, its mois­ture con­tent drops and makes it less sus­cep­ti­ble to in­sect dam­age or rot­ting. This is why the low-mois­ture tamar is sold through­out the year com­pared to the higher-mois­ture stages of besr or rutab, which should be eaten fresh af­ter har­vest or frozen if you plan to eat them later in the year.

If you en­joy crisp and tart green ap­ples or ba­nanas with raw green patches on the skin, then besr dates might be for you. I have al­ways steered clear of their tongue-coat­ing as­trin­gency – a most un­ap­petis­ing re­ward af­ter in­vest­ing the ef­fort of gnaw­ing through their firm and crunchy fi­bres. If you en­joy soft and juicy dates, rutab might be your date of choice. Rutab are only avail­able fresh at that pet­ri­fy­ing peak of sum­mer when most Dubai res­i­dents have scur­ried away to cooler climes. If you choose to stay, then you are blessed with dates whose tears of sweet juice well up from their del­i­cate rup­tured skins. Rutab spon­ta­neously burst in your mouth to re­lease an in­tense fudgy pulp that you could en­joy plain like a soft chewy caramel, or once you in­vest in the manda­tory ice cream ma­chine, you could spoon over home-made cof­fee and car­damom ice cream.

Like any good thing, rutab does not last. You can only track them down for about four weeks of sum­mer when they are in their prime, though it has be­come com­mon to re­verse the ag­ing process with cold stor­age or even chem­i­cals.

The Bam date from the south of Iran is a per­sonal favourite. Their wet lus­cious pulp coats ev­ery pos­si­ble sur­face in your mouth, leav­ing you no choice but to lick your front teeth in an undainty ef­fort to clean up af­ter some­thing that feels far too in­dul­gent to be healthy. It sells cheap at about Dh15 a kilo and is widely avail­able through the year at the Deira mar­ket or in the fridges of Ira­nian spe­cial­ity stores.

The third tamar phase is where it gets both in­ter­est­ing and ter­ri­bly in­con­ve­nient. No one can give you a de­fin­i­tive an­swer on

Given how EAS­ILY dates are avail­able in the UAE from all over the Mid­dle East and North Africa, date DIS­CRIM­I­NA­TION is not an of­fence, but a right. You must FUSS over dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of dates

AJWA (SAUDI ARA­BIA)

These dark dates fetch a high price in the Mus­lim world as they were Prophet Mo­ham­mad’s (PBUH) favourite dates. Small, chewy rather than juicy, and mod­er­ately sweet.

LULU (AL AIN, UAE)

Each in­di­vid­ual date in a batch at the mar­ket ex­hib­ited a slightly dif­fer­ent taste and mois­ture level. Some were soft and sweet as honey; oth­ers were chewy, dry and bland.

AM­BAR (SAUDI ARA­BIA)

With an av­er­age size of 5cm, these pricey dates are some of the largest avail­able. How­ever, in­side is of­ten more hol­low space than date pulp.

BAM (IRAN)

These tooth-coat­ingly wet dates are in the rutab cat­e­gory – fresh, soft, juicy. They are best stored in the fridge given their su­per-juicy belly.

DE­GLET NOOR (AL­GE­RIA)

This North African va­ri­ety is fa­mous, but has a low flesh to seed ra­tio.

KHADRI (SAUDI ARA­BIA)

From the Qas­sim re­gion, this va­ri­ety has the per­fect ra­tio of plump to chewy – and an af­ter­taste of berries.

KHA­LAS (SAUDI ARA­BIA)

This won­der­ful date has a smoky sweet­ness that comes highly rec­om­mended.

MAB­ROOM (SAUDI ARA­BIA)

From the word ‘rounded,’ these dates look shriv­elled on the out­side, but are sur­pris­ingly soft and chewy on the in­side. They re­lease their sweet flavour grad­u­ally, like a slow-melt­ing chewy tof­fee.

MASHROOK (SAUDI ARA­BIA)

These dates are tough and skinny, with a sweet af­ter­taste.

MED­JOOL (JOR­DAN)

A close sec­ond to the Pales­tinian va­ri­ety (right), this is still worth mak­ing a date with.

MED­JOOL (PALES­TINE)

The most ex­pen­sive date at the mar­ket this year earns its Dh55 a kilo price tag with its volup­tuous, dense flesh.

SUKKARI (SAUDI ARA­BIA)

Their name comes from the word for sugar, and that’s no co­in­ci­dence. Pair with a dark, bit­ter cof­fee.

what is the best dried date to buy. First you need to de­cide what tex­ture you pre­fer: dry, semi-dry or soft. My pref­er­ence is to pick the soft­est, juici­est ones with the small­est pits. The parched Ira­nian or Iraqi Zadi dates would be bet­ter off milled into flour, while the skinny Al­ge­rian De­glet Noor date has such a low flesh to seed mass that you spend the best part of your time think­ing about where to dis­card the pit than about the nu­ances of its flavour. Given how eas­ily dates are avail­able in the UAE from all over the Mid­dle East and North Africa, date dis­crim­i­na­tion is not an of­fence, but a right. You must fuss over dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of dates, even stop­ping to pon­der over dif­fer­ent ori­gins for the same kind of date.

Take the prized Med­jool for in­stance. Of the three kinds of Med­jool date hawked at the mar­ket this sea­son – Pales­tinian, Jor­da­nian and Saudi – it is un­for­tu­nate that my taste buds grav­i­tate to­wards the most ex­pen­sive Dh55 per kilo Pales­tinian Med­jool. Com­pared to av­er­age-sized 3cm to 3.5cm dates, these are a whop­ping 5cm in length, sec­ond only to the higher-priced Saudi Am­bar dates. If all the other dates were akin to Her­shey’s choco­late chip cook­ies, the Med­jool would saunter in as the Val­rhona brownie. Its volup­tuous in­nards snug­gle up to the seed, with a dense meati­ness that trumps the hol­low, pa­pery Am­ber. The Jor­da­nian Med­jool comes a close sec­ond, but the Saudi one is as dis­ap­point­ingly dry and tough as it warns from the out­side. The same-priced Ajwa date from Mad­i­nah is held in sa­cred re­gard be­cause it was the Prophet Mo­ham­mad’s (PBUH) favourite date. But I still pre­fer the Pales­tinian Med­jool.

If the price tag for Med­jool feels in­tim­i­dat­ing, there are other dates wor­thy of your tast­ing. Khadri dates from the Qas­sim re­gion of Saudi Ara­bia are Dh20 cheaper by the kilo, but they’re tempt­ingly plump and chewy with an af­ter­taste of berries. The softer va­ri­ety of Sukkari date lives up to its name­sake – sukkar or sugar – with an un­bri­dled can­died flavour that de­mands a stern swig of Turk­ish cof­fee. The smoky sweet­ness of Saudi Kha­las dates in­voke the im­age of a hot minced beef and gooey brie samosa dabbed with glossy date chut­ney.

But don’t take my word for it. Ev­ery date is dif­fer­ent, and your per­sonal im­pres­sion of that date will be dif­fer­ent. My own ex­pe­ri­ence sam­pling the same date on two dif­fer­ent days was of­ten con­flict­ing. ‘Dates are like hu­man be­ings,’ sums up Su­mairi. This is why your taste buds de­serve a fully-fledged tast­ing ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore you make them com­mit to a date.

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