What you need to know about the Liwa Date Festival and the fruit of the nation
The Liwa Date Festival, which starts its 11th edition on Wednesday, is a celebration of the culture of the UAE and its precious date palm – an integral part of this land and crucial to the survival of its inhabitants for thousands of years.
If past events are any indication, 70,000 visitors will make the trek out to Liwa City in Al Gharbia. There, in an air-conditioned tent in the middle of the desert, the finest produce from the UAE’s date and fruit farms will be on display alongside heritage and cultural demonstrations.
Dates – and for the fifth year, mangoes and lemons, too – will be in competition, with 220 prizes and more than Dh6 million waiting to be awarded.
“The festival aims at providing a unique opportunity for the different generations to discover and learn about the heritage and the traditions of the ancestors,” says Obaid Khalfan Al Mazrouei, director of the festival. “The palm tree was and will remain a symbol of the history and culture of the Arab society, in general, and the Emirati society in particular.”
Al Mazrouei cites data from the United Nations to point out that in the past decade, the UAE has planted 22 million palm trees, which represents 20 per cent of the total number of palm trees in the world.
“We are still striving to achieve a global reality that is worth our pride,” he says.
Varieties of dates
Fresh dates are either soft, semi-dry or dry, depending on the glucose, fructose and sucrose content. The dry, fresh date is not the same as the dried date. Fresh dates, if kept in an airtight container, stay fresh for up to eight months in the fridge and a year in the freezer. Dried dates are dehydrated to remove moisture and have a longer shelf life than the fresh ones.
• Soft dates: barhi, halawi, khadrawy and medjool dates fall in this category. They have a sweet, creamy flesh because of their high-moisture content.
• Semi-dry dates: dayri, deglet noor and zahidi dates are considered semi-dry. They have less moisture, sweetness and chewiness.
• Dry dates: perhaps the most popular dry date is the thoory, which has more of a hard, dry skin and very little moisture.
The date and religion
The Quran references the date fruit in 21 different verses and it is often honoured as one of the blessings of heaven, with much significance given to the date palm as a source of nutrition and sustenance. The Bible mentions dates more than 50 times. Dates are sometimes described as the “heavenly fruit” because of how often they are mentioned in religious scriptures.
In Islam, dates are revered: the Prophet Mohammed used to break his fast with a date, making dates a must-have during Ramadan tables worldwide. In the Quran, it is told that the Virgin Mary was given fresh dates when she was experiencing discomfort and pain during the final stages of her pregnancy.
How to make the most of your dates
• Eat the soft dry fruits right out of the box.
• Coat them in molten chocolate.
• Deseed them and stuff them with almonds, walnuts, pecans or Brazil nuts, as well as candied orange or cream cheese and chives.
• Use chopped dates in a fruit salad.
• Because dates are very high in sugar, they make a great sweetener. To make date sugar, arrange sliced dates on a baking sheet and bake at 230°C for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they are very dry and hard as rocks. Grind or put them through a food processor to make sugar.
• To make a healthy ice cream topping, pit 10 medjool dates and combine them with one cup of coconut milk in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil then let it simmer. Mix constantly until the colour deepens. Pour into a food processor or blender, add a dash of salt, then blitz until no chunks remain – date-based caramel sauce in no time.
Better than sugar
Sweet and chewy, with a flavour almost reminiscent of caramel, dates are the best substitute for sweets and the best sugar replacement when it comes to cooking.
Earlier this year, Sarah, a Jordanian mum living in Abu Dhabi, launched the blog www.diaryofalifestylemommy.com to document the healthy recipes she likes to create for her family while working full time. She believes dates are the perfect, healthy snack for adults and children.
“My whole family loves dates,” says Sarah. My children have dates as snacks; I stuff them with nuts all the time and they have up to six a day. I make date smoothies as well, which are a great source of fibre and give you energy in the mornings. I never met anyone who does not like dates. When I am craving sugar, that’s the first thing I go for.”
Rich in dietary fibre, antioxidants and made of simple sugars, dates give an instant energy boost, making them perfect for those who are fasting.
• Dates are cholesterol-free and are low in sodium.
• Dates are rich in vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, A1 and C and proteins.
• They are a good source of iron (11 per cent) and potassium (16 per cent) and are rich in minerals such as calcium, manganese, copper and magnesium.
• Dates have soluble and insoluble fibres and amino acids that can help improve your digestive system.
• The Liwa Date Festival runs from Wednesday until July 30 in Liwa City, Al Gharbia, Western Region, from 4pm to 10pm. For more information, visit www.visitabudhabi.ae
Updated: July 19, 2015 04:00 AM