Saturday, August 23, 2014

Eating Dates

The other day I was at Ezdan Mall and wandered through an area where they had varieties of dates on display for people to try.

To most Westerners it looks like displays of unripe dates but in truth the dates are edible. Dates have a number of stages of ripeness and you can eat them in any of the stages. We are most familiar with the last stage, called “tamr” in Arabic, when dates have a dark-brown, wrinkly appearance. In my blog post “Varieties of Dates” all of the dates are tamr.

When I first learned Arabic I learned the Arabic word for dates was “tamr” but a better translation would be “dates at their last stage of ripeness”. An Arabic speaker would not refer to dates in the other stages as tamr.

So what are the stages? I looked at a few sources online and two had four stages where one only had three. I also recall in passing a Qatari friend of mine mentioning there were four stages so I’m going to go with four:

Khalal: dates still have a greenish colour

Bessar: depending on the variety the skin color will be yellow or red. I believe many of the dates in the above pictures are bessar.

Rutab: the dates start turning brown at the tip and become softer

Tamr: fully ripe, the dates are brown, soft and wrinkly.

Arabs will eat dates in any of the four stages and many prefer eating bessar or rutab. The less ripe the dates the crunchier they are and have less sugar. Apparently there are other substances like tannins, which can give dates more of a bitter flavor, that lessen as the date ripens.

I tried a number of bessar and rutab and I think they are an acquired taste. They just seemed a bit weird to me being crisp and crunchy instead of the usual softness one finds with tamr. There was also a significant difference in flavor, especially with bessar, and rather than enjoying the taste my mouth was sending signals of “these aren’t ripe, stop eating them”, to my brain. Just like when you eat any fruit you are just used to it tasting a certain way so when you eat an unripe one it just tastes weird.

I think I'll stick with tamr.

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