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The History Of Dates Fruit
The date palm is widely distributed across the dessert regions of North Africa and The Middle East. One of the few cultivated plants capable of growing in such hot and dry conditions. It is reputed to have 800 different uses altogether, but perhaps the most important of all the of these is the food it produces. The date has been a staple in the diet of people in the region for thousands of years, a valuable source of carbohydrates and essential vitamins in a part of the world where few other comparable foods are to be found.
Food Of The Desert
Dates provide people with food for thousands of years before the palm trees were deliberately cultivated. The estimated date for this cultivation began 7,000 years ago in what is now Iraq or Iran. Possibly farther East in the Indus Valley of Pakistan as well. Once the method of cultivating date palms had been discovered, the trees appear to have spread quickly across arid regions of The Middle East. The popularity of these fruits is due to their being stored for long periods once they have been dried. Therefore, they can be used as provisions during long journeys across the desert. This information is relevant to the growth of the trade routes that developed across both the Arabian and Saharan deserts. When caravans carrying merchandise began to cross immense distances of desert by traveling from one oasis to another.
The History Of The Date Fruit And Ibn Batutta
Arab traders transporting such trade goods as gold, incense, and ivory, not to mention slaves, were often guided across the inhospitable deserts by the people of the nomadic tribes of the region. Specifically, the Bedouin of Arabia and the Berbers of North Africa. While en route they were sustained by a diet of camel’s milk and dates. In 1352, the great traveler and writer Ibn Battuta (1304-69), who journeyed throughout the Islamic world, joined a caravan to cross the Sahara Desert from north to south and left us with an account of his experience in which he assessed prosperity of the towns and oases he visited by the quality of the dates he found.
Ibn Battuta set out on his journey from the Moroccan city of Sijilmasa on the northwest edge of the desert, which was then a major trading post. Since his journey in 1352, lasting for two years, the western branch of the trans-Saharan trade route started to decline in importance as the first Portuguese and then British sailors made the water faster and safe for travel. Overland trade routes became redundant as transcontinental shipping grew in profitability and ease over the course of the 16th and 17th centuries.
It was after the grueling 25 days in the desert that Ibn Battuta arrived at Taghaza, now in northern Mali, Where he observed that everybody was engaged in the salt trade and that even the houses were made of it. From Taghaza, Ibn Battuta continued southward to the Malian Kingdom, crossing the most arid part of the desert. The leaders of the caravan sent scouts ahead to the oasis town of Oualata, on the southern edge of the desert, to arrange for water to be sent back to them, a common practice during such long and arduous journeys.
The First Written Mention Of Dates
After returning to his home in Morocco from his travels in 1354, he was influenced to write about his travels from the ruler of Morocco, Abu Inan Faris. Ibn Battuta dictated an account of his journeys to scholars. The account is the only source for Ibn Battuta’s adventures. The full title of the manuscript may be translated as A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Traveling. It was in this account that is the oldest mention of the date fruit. The history of dates fruit starts with Ibn Battuta and continues today.
If you prefer to listen then to read, like I do, then here is a podcast about Ibn Battuta, http://www.missedinhistory.com/podcasts/ibn-battuta.htm. It is a podcast called, Stuff You Missed In History Class. I learned quite a bit from a history of the dates fruit and how it became important to travelers.
Modern Dates Coming To Your Plate
Today, the leading producer of dates fruit is Egypt. As a result, the rest of the suppliers are around Egypt, residing among North Africa and the Middle East. The varieties of breeds in date fruit varies from place to place. Most noteworthy are the wide variety of date breeds raised in this region. Arguably, some breeds are more delicious than others but they include Hissa, Gounda, Angou, and Medjool. See below a graph whom are the biggest suppliers in the world and how much tonnage they produce.
Top ten date producers – 2014
(1000 metric tonnes)
Egypt – 1,113
Iran – 958
Saudi Arabia – 847
Iraq – 678
Pakistan – 555
United Arab Emirates – 533
Algeria – 517
Sudan – 437
South Sudan – 299
Oman – 250