Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Dates: The Fruit Of The Ages

by Todd Selga

Possibly the first tree cultivated by humans, the enormous date palm yields a spectacular fruit. Dates require extremely hot climate to flourish, at least 100 days of 100 degrees Fahrenheit temperature during the summer and at the fall harvest exceed 120 degrees. This, along with their height, which averages 80 feet, makes harvesting no easy task since it means maneuvering 60 foot ladders and handling bunches of dates that weight up to 60 pounds.

I visited my friends Jaime and Anjou Jones in Niland, California, prominent organic date farmers who have made a quite reputation for themselves growing superb dates in the Southern California desert. Now calling themselves "The Date People," Jaime started out farming his own dates in 1985 under the name Cahuilla Gardens," Jaime, a twelve year raw foodist, is one of the few date farmers known as a "palmero" for his ability to work the tall date palms and maneuver a 62 foot date ladder. Being a raw foodist makes it much easier to work in there extreme desert temperatures and to keep up with the strenous demands of farming dates throughout the entire year.

(Click here to see how date harvesting is done :)

Jaime began Cahuilla Gardens in 1985 with little more than a bisycle and a lot of motivation and energy while maintaining a day job. By 1990 he and Anjou were working several groves and employing many migrant and alternative workers during harvesting time (Sept-Nov). 1998 Jaime and Anjou moved to Niland, California, purchasing their own land. Now they have there over 500 date palms.

None of their farm work comes at any cost to the environment or to the health and well-being of the harvesters.  Jaime chooses to have his groves certified only by the most stringent organic certifier, Oregon Tilth Certified Organic. The Date People processed dates (date rolls and nuggets) are unique in that they are raw, having been spared the industry standard of cooking using steam hydration. They process their soft dates instead of the drier Deglet Noor date (which are commonly used and almost always requires steam hydration). The soft dates retain their enzymes making them easer to digest than their store bought (cooked) counterpants. This makes it extremely important to buy dates and processed date products directly from a grower who can assure you they are not hydrated.

As well as the traditional sugary sweet Medjhool and the nutty Deglet Noor, there are over 140 kinds of dates in the world. Barhis, Zahidis, black dates, Halawis, and Borrego Honeys are the names of only a few.

Dates can be enjoyed fresh and whole, processed into nuggets or rolls, or even blended with water or fruit juice into smoothies. Dates are best known in their dried form. However, each year´s harvest bring to market a significant number of undried dates in their fresh moist form. Moist dates are by far the absolute best. They literally melt in one´s mouth and can be relished in quantity due to their extreme moistness. Being very moist their sugars are less concentrated and they digest like high water content fruit.

Drying preserves the fruit´s shelf life. this may be done by using fans or hrough natural drying on the trees as practiced by The Date People. the fan simply draws the moisture out without any heat being involved.
The hardiest palm yeld 500 or more pounds of fruit. In their newsletter, The International Dateline, Anjou and Jamie note: "One date palm planted at birth could conceivably supply a person with practically their entire lifetime suppy of food." Dates are almost nutritionally complete and are a food staple in north Africa and Middle East.

Human history reveals a long acquaintance with dates. Mentioned in the Bible, spoken of in Eastern poetry, and uncovered in archaeological finds, the date palm enjoys a long and uninterrupted relationship with humankind. Today´s leading producers are Iraq and Egypt, but dates also bound in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Algeria, Pakistan, and Sudan. Nearly all of the United States´ dates come from Arizona´s Salt River and the Colorado River Valley near Yuma along with the Salton Basin and interior valleys of California.

Female date palms produce fruit while the males produce the pollen. One male tree can produce enough pollen for fifty females. Date growers must do the pollination by hand, collecting and carrying the pollen to female flowers. The fruit develops following pollination and remains green and bitter, resempling an olive, before turning yellow and red, and finally ripening into shades of gold, brown, black. Date palms begin to fruit anywhere from four to ten years following their planting, and flourish in sandy alkaline soil. The main necessity for date cultivation, of course, is water for irrigation. Date bunches are susceptible to damage when nearing ripeness and are bagged or netted to prevent water, bird or insect damage.

It is crucial when purchasing this sweet ablong fruit to make sure it is organically grown, or grown using similar practices. As The Date People explain, organic dates, as compared to non-organic dates, provide "more nutrition, better taste [are part of a] healthier lifestyle, are not exposed to "malathion-insecticide, methyl bromide-fumigant, chlorine solutions-mold inhibitor, [nor do they cause] a more toxic environment." Commercial dates harm both our health and the life sustaining ability of their bioregion.

Date harvesting is a complicated and timely process. Dates need to be picked at exactly the right time when neither too wet (if harvested early) not too dry (if harvested late). If the dates are too wet they are prone to damage when being handled and may mold when kept in storage. Dates which are too dry have less flavor and more chance of becoming bug-infested.

The harvested dates are usually minimally dried and stored in refrigeration making them readily available year round.'Dates are nourishing addition to our diets. They can be enjoyed and relied upon for availability throughout the year. With so many diverse varieties to be had at such reasonable prices, dates can be easily stored and refrigerate well for over a year from their harvest. With the fast pace of life, they are a convenient and nutritious food source which also brings one great pleasure.

Date nutrition facts:
(10 dates, 85 grams edible portion)
Calories - 240
Carbohydrate - 57 g
Dietary Fiber - 6.4 g
Potassium - 560 mg
Protein - 2 g
Fat - 0 g
Sodium - 9 mg
10 dates provide the following % of the U. S. Recommended Daily Allowances (USRDA) for these nutrients:
Protein - 4
Thiamin (Vitamin B1) - 2
Biboflavin (Vitamin B2) - 6
Niacin - 6
Calcium - 4
Iron - 4
Vitamin B6 - 8
Folic Acid - 4
Phosphorus - 4
Magnesium - 10
Zinc - 2
Copper - 6
Pantothenic Acid - 4

End´s note:
And it is assumed that the analyzed dates are not organically grown. From this and other analyses, dates appear to be one of the most nutrient rich foods on the planet. USRDA´s are derived fro conventional standard American cooked food dietetics based on an unhealthy population and are of little real value in many regards, USRDA theory falls apart when we study raw food nutritional science.

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