इंडियन आवाज़     26 Sep 2023 07:34:22      انڈین آواز

Date : The Superfruit From Arabian Desert


Here comes Holy Ramadan, the month of fasting, prayers, charity, abstinence, spirituality, tolerance, family and social bonding, and other rewarding deeds.
Unfortunately, some of us misinterpret or are unaware of the concept, implication, and benefits of fasting during Ramadan. The practice of fasting is not meant to deprive the body of food, but to detoxify and purify the soul.
Physiological cleansing through food abstinence stimulates spirituality, increases energy, boosts immunity, and limits indulgence. Therefore, it is neither a torture to the body nor a punishment to the soul. In fact, an MIT scientific research showed that fasting stimulates a gene in humans that leads to longevity.
Unfortunately, our modern fasting practices contradict Islamic teachings. We abstain from eating and drinking during the day and overindulge at night, thwarting the spirit of Ramadan. Body detoxification occurs with food abstinence and breaking fast should start with nutrient-dense fruits and water. Because of this special month, I decided to write about a superfruit closely related to fasting, the date.
The theme of my last fifteen articles has been about the 20 so-called superfruits as chosen by Paul Gross for his book, “Superfruits.” These fruits were carefully selected for their intense nutrients, phytochemicals, and colors. Another factor that puts them ahead of other fruits is that they have gone through multiple scientific researches, lab tests, and clinical studies.
Blackcurrants and dates happen to tie up, but since Dr. Gross is known to be the “Berry Doctor,” I presume he decided to put the berry ahead of the date! If he knew what we know about the benefits of the date, he would have changed the superfruit order.
So today, I am taking the liberty of prioritizing the date and presenting some of its beneficial aspects, which are quite unknown to the West, but first I shall explore what Gross wrote about the superfruit.
The date, phoenix dactylifera, is native to the Arabian Peninsula, Middle East, and Northern Africa. The tall statuesque palm tree prospers on minimal amounts of water in oases.
Its many cultivars range from light and dark brown colors to almost ebony black. Some have oblong shapes; some are round and small or plump; and others come big and long. The fruit has only been introduced to the West quite recently in its dried form through Morocco.
The date grown in the U.S. is a product of palm trees offered by Saudi Arabia several decades ago. They are long and plump, but lack the musky flavor found in Arabian grown dates.
The moist date pulp is abundant in nutrients, phytochemicals, and natural sugars to sustain the health of the Bedouin in the desert. The sugar content is mainly fructose and glucose, sources of good energy. Though low in protein, the date offers adequate quantities of amino acids (protein building blocks).
Another advantage of the date is that it is low in fat but rich in prebiotic fiber and phytosterols, which help control cholesterol levels. The fruit’s minerals like selenium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, and iron boost immunity as well as protect the heart, build bone mass, and increase red blood cells. Its B and C vitamins are important for general health and immunity. The omega fatty acids in the date make it healthy for the heart, skin, and brain.
The date is also abundant in carotenoids and polyphenols such as anthocyanins, oligomeric proanthocyanidins, tannins, luteolin, quercetin, and apigenin. This unusual mix of phytocompounds is excellent for lowering the risk of disease by detoxifying the body from free radicals, the underlying cause of many illnesses.
The date’s optimal nutrients make it wholesome food for malnourishment. It is a cost-effective source of nutrition, easy to cultivate (requiring minimal water use and care), and practical for packaging, transport, and long-term storage. The date’s high nutritional value contributes to humanitarian relief in famine-stricken regions and Saudi Arabia is a leading contributor through the United Nation’s relief organizations.
Despite its density in nutrients, the date is not given the recognition it deserves. Unfortunately, countries cultivating it are not participating enough in global medical research.
One of the few studies done on the fruit by scientists in Abu Dhabi indicated that pit extracts are potent against certain bacteria and pathogens by preventing the bacteria from penetrating the cell membrane, thus suppressing infection.
The date pit contains an abundance of nutrients like protein, fiber, omega oils and monounsaturated fats similar to olive oil.
Because there is much more to say about the date, I would like to add to Gross’ precious data.
According to Jabar Al-Qahtani, professor of pharmacognosy at King Saud University in Riyadh and a leading herbalist in the country, dates contain the vitamins B and C and are rich in minerals like iron, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, manganese, copper, calcium, magnesium, and chlorine. They detoxify and fortify the liver, calm the nerves, prevent vision problems, stimulate the thyroids, and enhance sexual ability when taken with pine nuts.
They also eliminate parasites when eaten first thing in the morning. When soaked in water, dates relieve coughs and bronchitis and clear the throat. However, he does not recommend them for the obese and diabetics.
Dates contain 80 percent carbohydrates (fructose and glucose), along with protein, minerals, and vitamins. They have very little fat, but no cholesterol. Their nutrients are bioavailable even to children and the elderly. An average date contains approximately 20 calories.
Traditional Arabian medicine prescribes dates for many conditions, ranging from digestive and respiratory disorders and bone building to pregnancy, childbirth, flagging sexual drive, low-sperm count, fertility, and insect bites. During pregnancy, they bolster energy; supplement the mother with important nutrients (iron); prepare for delivery and lactation; regulate contractions; and prevent hemorrhage.
Different regions of the Arabian Peninsula have different recipes to ease childbirth. Some suggest eating several dates with cinnamon tea. Others use clove, cumin, or anise tea with dates. After delivery, dates are given to prevent postpartum bleeding and evict the placenta. To invigorate the new mother, she is given dates for breakfast with black seeds (Nigella sativa) and fenugreek or a preparation of wheat gruel with dates, butter, pepper, and aromatic seeds, plus an egg.
Date cures may have been inspired by the Holy Qur’an when God addresses Mariam, Mother of Jesus (PBUH) during her labor pains.
“And [when] the throes of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree, she exclaimed: “Oh, would that I had died ere this, and become a thing forgotten, utterly forgotten!” Thereupon [a voice] called out to her from beneath that [palm-tree]: “Grieve not! Thy Sustainer has provided a rivulet [running] beneath thee. And shake the trunk of the palm-tree towards thee: it will drop fresh dates upon thee.” (Chapter: 19; verses: 23 to 25)
There are around a hundred varieties of dates in Arabia. Al-Madinah Al-Munawarah, city of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him), was once the main supplier of quality dates in the country. Now, many regions provide good dates. The most popular ones from different regions are the ajwa, barhi, khlas, khudhari, majdoulah, nabbout saif, saqq’i, sukkari, among others.
For Westerners, dates and the palm tree symbolize Arabia. It is a gift to the inhabitants of this barren land. It is said that Bedouins can live on nothing but dates and camel milk for long periods of time due to the fruit’s intense calories and nutrients. Ancient Arabs thrived and survived on the palm tree, which surprisingly prospers in arid land and yields the nutritious date. Very few fruits rival it in nutritional value. Its benefits are heightened and complemented when it is taken with goat or camel milk.
Arabians found use for every part of the palm tree. They employ the fronds of branches to weave baskets and ropes and to thatch rooftops. Palm trunks are used as pillars to support houses and tents. The center of the palm trunk, known as the jummar, or heart of palm, makes an exquisite salad ingredient. The liquid of boiled luqqaah (the sheath of flower cluster) is given to quell upset stomachs. Date pits yield cooking oil.
During the summer season, a wide variety of fresh dates are found at fruit markets. Shops display them in pyramids or inside transparent containers like gems and sell the quality kinds at considerably high prices.
The date only ripens at the peak of heat (August), yielding a superior quality of the fruit. Dates are eaten at different stages. Fresh dates, balah, are crunchy and less sweet. Favorites are the deep red long zahou al-Madinah and the bright yellow round barhi. As they mellow, one half becomes soft and light brown or dark brown. They are called munassaf, meaning half and half. When they turn completely brown and softly moist, they become rutthab.
Freezing can maintain this stage for months, making it available all year long. Some types are better than others for freezing. To last a whole year to the next season, they need to be dried to become tamr, the date that is found in Western markets. Different types of dates are dried to different levels. Date syrup is sometimes added to keep them soft and preserve them.
Dates, like fruits, should be taken on an empty stomach in order for the body to benefit from their nutrients and antioxidants, which nourish, detoxify, and cleanse the body. Consuming too many can be detrimental to health and counteract weight control. Dates should be restricted or approached with prudence by patients suffering from medical conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol and triglycerides, and obesity.
Dates are particularly popular during the holy month of Ramadan. Breaking fast with one, three, or a cardinal up to seven dates is highly recommended by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to energize the body after a long day of abstinence from food. Nutrients replenish and antioxidants detoxify.
“Whoever takes every morning seven dates of ajwa, he will neither be harmed by poison nor sorcery on that day,” he said.
Ajwa, the Prophet’s favorite date, is the short black highly prized date, grown in Madinah. It fetches up to 150 Saudi Riyals or $40 per kilogram.
Until the invasion of modern diet, the date was the main source of nutrition in the Arabian Peninsula. Traditional Arabs gave the fruit as a sweet to their children. Delicious desserts like henaini, asseeda, dibiaza, and maamoul are made with dates, while even rice and vegetable recipes include dates. Date syrup is used in desserts. Plain or nut-stuffed dates are savored with the cardamom-flavored Arabic coffee.
The natural sweetness of dates can substitute sugar in cakes, smoothies, pastries, pies, milkshakes, and yogurt. They make healthy snacks when added to cereal, stuffed or coated with crushed nuts, or dipped in dark chocolate. Dates are made into jams, spreads, toppings, and syrups.
In some regions, dates are consumed by dipping in cream (qishtha) or tahina.
Because of its dense nutrients and importance to health during the month of Ramadan, I chose to discuss the invaluable date before the blackcurrant. I hope Gross will not resent me for changing the order.
N.B. Individuals with medical conditions or on medication should consult their physicians when they decide to introduce anything new in their diet even if it is natural.
Courtesy Arab News

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