Friday, July 29, 2011

Varieties of Dates

I just finished shopping for Ramadan and one of the things I had to buy was dates. In Qatar, as well as most parts of the Islamic world, it is common to break your fast by eating a few dates so I wanted to make sure I had some on hand.

Most people in the West may not realize that, much like other fruits, there are many different varieties of dates. They range in size, color, sweetness, and quality (and of course, price). When I looked around the supermarket I realized there were over 10 different varieties on sale. So I figure I'd pick up a bunch of different types and try them out. Ultimately I've tried seven, including six from the same company. [2016 update: added two more varieties, now it's nine]

Once I got home I had a mini taste-testing to see what the differences were between the varieties.

1) Khudri

Khudri dates are a uniform dark brown color, not too wrinkly (dates can range from smooth to as wrinkly as a prune depending on the variety). The skin of these dates flake a little.

Taste: moderately sweet, nice “date” flavour, chewy but not dry.

2) Sagai

Sagai dates had the lightest color, going from medium brown to a very light brown at the top so had a unique 2-toned colour. They were also moderately wrinkled but the skin didn't flake.

Taste: mild sweetness, a milder date flavor than Khudri, chewy, not dry.

3) Safawi

Safawi are also a dark brown color but are slightly darker in color than Khudri dates. Safawi dates are wrinkly but how wrinkly they were varied greatly from date to date. Slight flaking.

Taste: the sweetness and flavour were slightly more intense than a Khudri date. Chewiness varied with how wrinkled the date was: a more wrinkled date was tougher to chew.

4) Ajwa Al Madinah

Unlike the other varieties of dates these dates are smaller and more spherical, rather than the oval shape we traditionally attribute to dates. They are also a very dark brown, almost black. Slightly wrinkled and the skin didn't flake.

Taste: these dates were very soft and almost melted in your mouth. They were moderately sweet but the taste could best be described as "smooth" compared to the other dates. Despite their smaller size the seed was slightly bigger.

5) Fard

These dates are medium brown color, smooth, with a bit of skin flaking. Seemed a bit more plump compared to the other dates.

Taste: like the Ajwa dates they were soft but unlike Ajwas they were very sweet, easily the sweetest date of the seven. You could almost feel granules of sugar in it. The sweetness also gave it a strong flavour.

6) Mabroom

Slightly smaller and more elongated than Khudri dates, also have a bit lighter color though not as light as Sagai. Wrinkled but they don't flake.

Taste: slightly less sweet than Khudri, a bit harder as well, pleasant flavour that was not as intense as some of the other varieties.

7) Sukkary

Sukkary are light brown in colour with patches of even lighter colour here and there, somewhat like a Sagai but without the distinct colour difference you see in Sagai dates. A bit of flaking.

Taste: not chewy, almost melted as it was quite soft. Like Fard dates I was mostly tasting sugar but it was not as sweet as a Fard date. Very mild date taste, so much so that if I had been given these while blindfolded I'd have a tough time determining it was a date.

8) Majdool

These were recommended by a Qatari friend of mine and are one of his favourites. They're expensive, mostly because they are a rare variety, or at least the Jordanian ones are (which are apparently the best).

The dates were HUGE, easily the biggest of the varieties that I've tried, and probably three times as much 'meat' as an ajwa date.

Taste: I expected them to be as soft and sugary as a Fard date given their size but actually they had a nice soft/firmness balance, a bit softer than a Khudri, and had a slightly stronger date taste and were 'smooth' like an ajwa. They were pretty good and might be what many people (not familiar with dates) would expect a date to be like.

9) Khenaizi

Very dark brown, small to midsize, not very wrinkled and didn't flake. They were soft, though a bit firmer than a Fard date, and had an above-average sweetness. The taste leaned more toward 'sweet' than 'date', but not to the extent of a Fard date. Still pretty good.

So what one did I like the best? I would have to go with the Ajwa Al Madinah because of their softness and smooth flavor/sweetness. Ranking them in order I would go:

Ajwa Al Madinah
Khudri (if you're not too familiar with dates these ones are probably what you think dates would be like)
Majdool (similar to Khudri but three times the price)
Sagai and Mabroom tied
Sukkary (sugar taste, not much date taste)
Safawi (the tougher consistency was a bit annoying)
Fard (way too sweet and a real contrast to the Ajwa)

Not surprisingly the most expensive of the five varieties were also the Ajwas, which cost more than double what you would pay for the other varieties, though the Majdool dates were a close second. The rest were generally around the same price.

[Aug 2014 update: you can find an additional blog post about dates, this time about the stages of ripeness, by clicking this link.]



Anonymous said...

Ajwat AlMadina is more expensive because it's considered "sunnah" to consume them, there's a Hadith that specifically says that they protect from evil and I think the company is trying to capitalize on that fact - lol.

Glen McKay said...

Hey, you're right. Ajwa dates are mentioned a few times in the Hadiths. I found one reference that said eating them would help ward off poison and sorcery. Kind of a 7th century version of "an apple a day will keep the doctor away" :)

but they were also the tastiest dates though so I still think that's why they're more expensive (just kidding, one of my Qatari friends also confirmed that they're generally more expensive because they are mentioned in Hadiths)

Anonymous said...

This was a very helpful article. Thanks for contributing the findings

Anonymous said...

Thanks brother for this review! Awesome.

Anonymous said...

Informative and interesting article...

WildsRain said...

how about Sofry dates? How do we like them?

Glen McKay said...

I don't think I've tried Sofry dates yet. At least not that I know of.

Jo Annalee said...

That is a very interesting and informative survey of a variety of dates. Shukran!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for such an amazing and thorough review! It helped alot!

Glen McKay said...

You're welcome.

Cilantro P said...

Oh my good analysis. Last week I was returning home via Dubai and had a mental block while shopping for dates. There were so many varieties and so many choices.i wanted to buy a variety pack for taste as I was very confused but they didn't look appetizing. Finally I picked up Premium Saudi Khedri dates.I loved them.Uniform size, brown color and perfect sweetness. I hate sugary dates. Exactly what I was looking for. I was also attracted by Sagai dates due to their unique color so I will buy them next time. Your blog helped a lot, thanks.

adimax said...

This is an insightful one. I have read some 4-5 posts addressing this topic but our parameters os sweetness, chewyness, skin type and price really helps take a decision. Thank you

Unknown said...

Buying dated in Doha it was great to read about the different varieties before I purchased.

Anonymous said...

I am pretty ignorant on date varieties so this is hugely helpful. Thank you.

Glen McKay said...

No problem. Enjoy.