Dates: A Sweet Note From Qatar
One of the great delicacies of the arid Gulf region is the date. Qatar grows a lot — roughly 30,000 metric tons a year, ranking it 19th in global production — and the crop is an important part of the Qatari government’s plan to attain more food self-sufficiency.
Dozens of varieties of dates, in every state between fresh and fully dried, are enjoyed by themselves or as ingredients in sweet and savory dishes. Dates are proudly served at just about every Qatari gathering, from tea with a friend to a lavish banquet. Whatever the occasion, they’re a sweet celebration of life in a climate where not many crops thrive.
While dried dates — commonly available in stores everywhere — are delicious, there’s nothing quite like eating fresh ones, tasting the differences between various types and noting how the flavors evolve as they dry, becoming more intensely caramelly, with a texture that hovers somewhere between candy and cake.
Learning and appreciating subtle differences like this are one of the great joys of eating local foods wherever I go. Apart from the well-documented benefits (for ourselves and the planet) of eating locally, many of the world’s most sublime flavors simply do not travel. You must experience them close to the source, in in doing so you create indelible memories of that place.
Despite their intense sweetness, dates are actually a healthy food! They’re full of fiber, which gives them a low glycemic index, and they’re packed with vitamins, minerals, and potent antioxidants. Compounds in dates are anti-inflammatory, and have been linked to improved cognitive health and a lower risk of some cancers. Dates also may help women with natural labor and childbirth.
Try this date-olive tapenade recipe; it’s wonderful in sandwiches and wraps, or as an accompaniment to a cheese plate. You can also read up on dates in our Roundglass Ingredient Library, with nearly 150 detailed posts on fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices, and more from around the world. It’s available on the app and website, and we’re adding more every week, so be sure to become a member and check back often!