It is a time of happiness and refreshment as the fast is broken at sunset, after experiencing the pangs of hunger and thirst. From Sherbet to Harira to Kepsa and Harees, the ceremonial dining spread is filled with nourishing treats… But at the centre of all the delicacies is the dark textured, humble yet ever-so-sweet, dates!
Muslims around the world traditionally break their daylong Ramadan fast with the blessed fruit, abundant in health and nutritional benefits.
"For Muslims, date is most revered, as it has received preference over all the other fruits in Islam. It is categorized amongst the fruits of heaven, and nonetheless, dieticians recommend dates as an excellent source of nutrition and inseparable part of a balanced diet," says Bader Al Siyabi, Director, Date palm department, Ministry of Agriculture.
With the demand for dates shooting to almost double the normal during Ramadan, it is expected to reach 15000 tonnes by the end of the holy month, according to Bader. (The annual consumption in Oman is estimated at 150,000 tonnes.) Owing to demand, and people looking for even more varieties, dates from other countries were also being sold- majorly from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran, and Algeria, he revealed further. Dates from Saudi Arabia were the most in demand, especially due to their spiritual significance.
According to the floor manager at the Ghubra Bausher Lulu hypermarket, Ajwa from Medina was the most sought after, followed by Khadari, Munaifi, and Mabroom. "We are selling around 500 kg per day of only the Saudi dates. Ajwa especially is very often out of stock, as almost all customers buying dates would certainly buy some quantity of the Ajwa as well."
Prices were also hugely varying and fluctuating- ranging from OMR14 per kg for the much revered Ajwa variety from Medina in Saudi Arabia to the 600 baiza local Khunaizi and Negal varieties.
"At the start of harvest season in May, the same dates selling today at 600-900 baiza per kilo were priced at OMR5-7.5. The prices also keep fluctuating by day according to demand. If the demand grows high, the prices go even higher. Sometimes when the supply is ample, the prices are moderate," said a vendor at the Mabela vegetable market.
The market's local favourite, Al Khunaizi — the large, red variety known for its lush taste and nutritive quality, which was quoted at OMR2.500 per kg at the start of the season, has come down to 600 Baiza per kg, as the market gets swamped with dates, with the season peaking.
In Omani dates, Al Khalas remains the cultivar of the highest quality, according to Bader. With 75% of the cultivated land dedicated to date farming, the fruit is produced almost in parts of the country, with Nizwa and Suwaiq being the focal centers along-with the various wilayats of the Interior and Sharqiya regions, and the current season saw a produce of 238 thousand tonnes.
Oman has more than 250 indigenous varieties of dates, out of which, the most relished for their delectable taste and succulence are Khalas, Khunaizi and Fargh. In northern Oman, the hub of date harvest is Fanja souq in Bid Bid wilayat.
Since mid-May, the beginning of the harvest season, the market becomes inundated with freshly harvested dates, brought by the truckload from Bid Bid, Dima wa' Tayeen, Samad A'Shan, Al Rowdha, Samayil and even Bausher in Muscat Governorate.
The Ash Patash and Al Nagal varieties are among the first to hit the market, but not as sweet as the ones that followed. As the harvest season progressed, dates of the Al Khunaizi variety, described as the most sugary in taste, and Al Khalas, billed as the most delicious, also entered the market- followed closely by Al Mebselli and Al Khasab varieties.
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