You know that common saying: ‘The best foods come naturally’? Well, here’s one major reason those words are undoubtedly true. From the countless blessings of Allaah comes one the most beneficial and truly wonderful fruits in nature- The Date Fruit. From its wide range of nutritional benefits to almost non-existent health risks, this fruit poses itself as a real underestimated treasure, a biological plus and a special gift of nature.
Botanically, they are the fruits that grow on the palm tree belonging to the family of Aracaceae in the genus: Phoenix and specifically named as Phoenix dactylifera. The tree is believed to have originated in the lands on the banks of Nile and Euphrates river of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Date palm is now grown extensively for its edible fruits under warmer climates across all continents.
The date fruit is a ‘drupe’ in which outer fleshy part (exocarp and mesocarp) surrounds a shell (the pit or stone) of hardened endocarp with a see d inside. The fruit is oval to cylindrical in shape, 3-7cm long, and 2-3cm in diameter; and when ripe, ranges from bright red to brown depending on the variety.
There are many varieties of date palm cultivated. Amir, Hajj, Saidy, Khadrawy and Medjool are some the important varieties that are popular for their superior quality.
Health Benefits Of Dates
Wonderfully delicious, dates are one of the most popular fruits packed with an impressive list of essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals that are required for normal growth, development and overall well-being.
Fresh dates compose of soft, easily digestible flesh and simple sugars like fructose and dextrose. When eaten, they replenish energy and revitalize the body instantly. Little wonder they have always been used to break the fast during the month of Ramadan since ancient times!!!
The fruit is rich in dietary fibre, which LDL cholesterol absorption in the gut. Also, the fibre works as a bulk laxative. It, thus, helps to protect the colon mucous membrane by decreasing exposure time as well as binding to cancer-causing chemicals in the colon.
They contain health-benefitting flavonoid polyphenolic antioxidants known as tannins. Tannins are known to possess anti-inflammatory, and anti-haemorragic( prevent easy bleeding tendencies) properties. They moderate sources of vitamin-A (contain 149 IU per 100g), which is known to have antioxidant properties and essential for vision. Also, it is required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin. Consumption of natural fruits rich in vitamin-A is known to help to protect from lung and oral cavity cancers. They compose antioxidant flavonoids such as beta-carotene, lutein, and zea-xanthin. These antioxidants have been found to have the ability to protect cells and other structures in the body from harmful effects of oxygen-free radicals. Thus, eating dates has been found to offer some protection from colon, prostate, breast, endometrial, lung, and pancr eatic cancers.
Zea-xanthin is an important dietary carotenoid that selectively absorbs into the retinal macula lutea, where it is thought to provide antioxidant and protective light-filtering functions. It thus offers protection against age-related macular degeneration, especially in elderly people.
Dates are an excellent source of iron (0.90 mg/100g contains about 11% of RDI). Iron, being a component of haemoglobin inside the red blood cells, determines the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.
Further, they are very high in potassium. 100g contains 696mg or 16% of daily recommended levels of this electrolyte. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that help in controlling heart rate and blood pressure. They, thus, offer protection against stroke and coronary heart diseases.
They are also rich in minerals like calcium, manganese, copper and magnesium. Calcium is an important mineral that is an essential constituent of bone and teeth, and required by the body for muscle contraction, blood clotting and nerve impulse conduction. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Copper is required for the production of red blood cells. Magnesium is essential for bone growth.
Further, the fruit has adequate levels of B-complex group of vitamins as well as vitamin K. It contains very good amounts of pyridoxine (vitamin-B6), niacin, pantothenic acid and riboflavin. These vitamins act as cofactors to help the body metabolize carbohydrates, protein and fats. Vitamin K is essential for many coagulant factors in the blood as well in bone metabolism.
In an hadith reported by ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Umar(may Allaah be pleased with him), Allaah’s apostle said, “Amongst the trees, there is a tree, the leaves of which do not fall and is like a Muslim. Tell me the name of that tree.” Everybody started thinking about the trees of the desert areas. And I thought of the date-palm tree but felt shy to answer. The others then asked, “What is that tree, O Allaah’s apostle?” He replied, “It is the date-palm tree”.
Also, narrated by ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Abbas was that- Once the prophet, while passing through one of the grave-yards of Mecca or Medina, heard the voices of two persons who were being tortured in their graves. The prophet said, “These two persons are being tortured not for major sin.” The prophet then added, “Yes! Indeed, one of them never saved himself from being soiled with his urine while the other used to go about with calumnies (to make enmity between friends). The prophet then asked for a green leaf of a date-palm tree, broke it into two pieces and put one on each grave. On being asked why he had done so, he replied, “I hope that their torture might be lessened, till these get dried.”
In another hadith narrated by Asma’ bint Abu Bakr- I conceived ‘Abdullah Ibn Az-zubair at Mecca and went out (of Mecca) while I was about to give birth. I came to Medina and encamped at Quba’, and gave birth at Quba’. Then I brought the child to Allaah’s apostle and placed it (on his lap). He asked for a date, chewed it and put it in his saliva (the juice) in the mouth of the child. So the first thing to enter its stomach was the saliva of Allaah’s apostle. Then he did its tahnik with a date, and invoked Allaah to bless him… (Saheehul Bukhaari)
Storage And Selection
Dates are readily available throughout the groceries year round. Some varieties of fresh, soft, good-quality fruits are found from September through December. In certain regions of Africa, they are picked while just reaching maturity and allowed to ripen inside the jars.
In the stores, one may come across soft, semi-dry and dried types put for sale. At home, store them at room temperature in a cool place inside an air-seal container where they stay well for several months.
Preparation And Serving Method
High quality dates have been handpicked directly from the bunch and sold as the premium variety in the market. On a commercial scale, most are harvested by cutting the entire cluster, fumigated, cleaned, graded, packed, stored under refrigeration and released to markets according to demand. Here are some serving tips:
Dry and soft dates are usually eaten out-of-hand.
They can be stuffed with fillings such as almonds, walnuts, candied orange and cream cheese.
They can also be chopped and used with fruit salad and in a range of sweet and savoury dishes.
Dates are also being used to prepare juice and Jallab ( a type of syrup popular in the middle east and made from dates, grape molasses and rose water).
Date fruit allergy is a rare occurrence. The fruits are safe to eat in infants and pregnant women. However, in some sensitized individual to birch family pollen, exposure to date palm pollen may elicit cross-hypersensitivity reactions. It is therefore advised to avoid any food preparations that contain date palm products in these individuals.
Sources: http://www.nutrition-and-you .com, Sahih Bukhari.