Exploring the Roots: the History of Dates

January 16, 2018 | Raquel King

In the early 1900s, date palms were imported to the Western coast of the United States from Northern Africa. The industry took off in California, a state that continues to be the leading producer of dates here in the US. However, the Middle East is known to manufacture approximately two-thirds of the world’s dates, equaling more than 6 million tons! Throughout the last century, this exotic fruit has grown in popularity due to its abundance of health benefits as well as its association with ancient magic and mysticism.


How dates and date palms grow and pollinate


Date palms, which are a type flowering plant species in the palm family, have existed for millions of years. They have come to be known as the tree of life, as dates are one of the few crops that grow and flourish in the harsh desert climate. These trees generally grow to be about 75 feet in height, with leaves that span up to 20 feet. Although there is speculation as to the exact country of origin, many people believe the first dates were grown and harvested in what is now known as present-day Iraq. Currently, Egypt, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are the main producers of this highly sought-after fruit. Some of the oldest date forests can be found in Saudi Arabia.


How date farms operate and how dates are harvested


Traditionally, date farms in Arabian countries are tended and cared for by the same family for many generations. It takes about four to eight years for date palms to bear fruit, and each plant must be individually pollinated. Date fruits are picked by hand, a task that is customarily done by men who climb the trees using ropes, or young boys who use the scales on the trunks to shimmy up to the tops of the palms. These days, large farms often harvest their dates by using cherry pickers and mechanical buckets.

Dates have been a staple food in the Middle East for thousands of years, and their popularity in the United States continues to grow at a rapid pace. It’s easy to see why people love this ancient, exotic fruit, as eating just a few dates each day can play a big part in maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet.