According to researchers and archeologists the date palm (phoenix dactylifera) originated in North Africa and spread east to Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and beyond.
Today, most date palms grow in North African oases and reach a height of 15 – 25 meters for ease in harvesting.
There are several date palm varieties: aabel, Abid Rahim, barakwi, barhee, bireir, Deglet Noor, derrie, empress, Halawy, haleema, hayenny, iteema, khadarwy, khalasah, maktoon, madjool, mgmaat ayoub, mishrig, sayer, tagyat, tamaj, thory, umeljwary and zahid.
Originally, wind was the pollinator. Today, this is done manually for efficiency and to save valuable land. Manual pollination makes possible to pollinate 50 trees with one male tree. Some growers do not even have male trees and simply get the pollen from other growers. Partenocerpic trees are available but yield smaller and low quality fruit.
The oval-cylindrical, three to seven centimeter long fruit may be covered with a six to eight millimeter thick skin. Soft dates contain glucose, semi-dry glucose, and sucrose and may be picked in three stages of ripeness: unripe, full- size (soft) and extra ripe (sun-dried).
100 grams of dates contain 270 kilocalories (fresh 142) and considerable amounts of vitamin C.
Young trees (5 – 8 year olds) yield 8 – 10 kilograms of fruit per annum, older ones (13 per year) 60 – 80 and cultivars up to 100 but of low quality.
Arabic speaking countries are the biggest date producers and consumers, but western countries have become important markets in the last three decades, mostly due to immigration of Arabs to France, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and a few other western European countries.
California in the U S A is an important madjool date producer, but connoisseurs consider Iraqi, Egyptian and Iranian dates superior in taste if not in appearance.
Of all date producing countries, Egypt (1,100,000 metric tons) is the leader followed by Iran (880,000), Saudi Arabia (830,000), U A E (United Arab Emirates (760,000), Pakistan (650,000), Algeria (450,000), Sudan (350,000), Oman (240,000), Libya (14,000 and all others (1,140,000).
In the Arab world, the leaves of fresh, young date palm trees are eaten as vegetables. Cull fruit is dried, mixed with grain, and used as stock feed for camels, horses and dogs.
The sweet sap of date palms is trapped to convert to palm molasses, or fermented to a mildly alcoholic beverage, which may also be distilled, as is the case in Sri Lanka where the sweet sap of the coconut palm is used.
Specially trained people adept in climbing trees may tap a tree two to three times annually. These specially trained people are fitted with specially designed hook-like metal devices for traction.
In the western world most people eat dates dried, and use them in cookies and pastries.
Arabs use dates in cooking and are particularly fond of breaking their Ramadan fast with a few dates.