When you live in Qatar, it’s hard not to not to notice the palm trees at every turn so whether you like the taste of dates produced by the trees or not, you are in luck -- for the shade they offer as well as the bounty harvested from the trees.
Quite literally, every grocery store in Qatar sells the nuggets of sweetness, as do many other retailers and specialty date shops; however, to my knowledge, Heenat Salma Farm is the only place in Qatar where you can buy the dates harvested on site and even do the harvesting yourself if you wish!
Interested in learning more about the bountiful local harvest to share with our readers, a team of us set out to Heenat Salma Farm on a September afternoon. Escorted around the farm by Host and Tour Guide, Mandi from Morocco, we met Edwin, Foreman from Kenya and Habib, Harvester from Pakistan. It was explained there are two ways dates are harvested at Heenat Salma Farm - the sheet and shake method or the climbing method that Habib demonstrated for us.
With over 1500 palm trees on the Heenat Salma Farm producing 5 tons of dates annually, one harvester will climb or shake 7-8 trees per day during one of two shifts (5-10 am and 4-6 pm). There are 5 types of dates on the Farm including:
Kholas - a favorite amongst the Staff and the Origine Mag Team (green)
Khesab - the last to harvest each year (red)
Barhi or barhee (dark purple)
Yellow dates can be left in a cool dry place for 5-7 days or stored in the refrigerator to ripen to a brownish/reddish/purplish color. Rutab is the Arabic word for ripen.
As one of the oldest trees in the region, palm trees and dates have played a significant role in the life and economy of Qatar. For example, during the pearl diving days in Qatar (dating as far back as 4,600 BCE), dates were a source of sustenance for divers. According to Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar, dates were the first agricultural export product of Qatar. Still today in Qatar and the Middle East, dates are a staple food and continue to be a source of energy for residents, are served with gahwa as a form of hospitality Qatar is well known for, and are essential during the Holy Month of Ramadan. At Heenat Salma Farm in particular, once the harvest season has ended (in October), the palm leaves are pruned and used for projects and activities around the farm including palm weaving, one of the oldest skills known to man. Historically speaking, palms were used as construction material -- an important feature used to keep dwellings cool and the sand and elements out. Next time you visit the Souq Waqif, look up at the ceiling and you’ll notice the roof is made of woven palms, paying tribute to the architecture of days past. Equally important for sustainable living, dates unable to be harvested are used for feed, compost, and manure. Furthermore, the significance of dates is rooted deep in Islam as dates or date palms are mentioned in the Qur’an 22 times. More specifically, during the Holy Month of Ramadan, the Sunnah (Arabic for habitual practice or tradition) of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is to eat dates at Suhoor, the meal eaten early in the morning before the break of dawn, after which fasting takes place until after sunset. After fasting all day, dates contain the right kinds of nutrients to rejuvenate the body’s energy levels, therefore it is common to break the fast at sunset by consuming both water and a couple of dates before the Iftar meal.
While dates (like many other fruits) are often referred to as “nature’s candy”, the small nuggets ironically pack a lot of nutritional punch. It is believed, according to Muslim proverb, “seven dates a day keeps the doctor away”. It is estimated that a single date has more potassium than one banana. The fiber content of dates is one of their greatest benefits, helping to reduce certain cancers, keeping digestive systems in check, and controlling blood sugars due to the way fiber is slowly digested. Dates provide various antioxidants which protect our cells from free radicals that may cause harmful reactions in our bodies which can lead to disease. Additionally, they are sodium free as well as cholesterol and fat free! Dates are well suited for those following vegan, gluten or dairy free diets. Indeed, it is impressive to think something so small can be so powerful. There are a variety of ways to add this nutrient packed fruit into your diet. They can be eaten raw, dried, used as a natural sweetener in baking, for their nutritional value in cooking, pressed and made into syrup, paste, or butter. Because dates are considered a stone fruit, be sure to remove the pit.
To quote the Heenat Salma Farm website, “Farm to table is not just a phrase. It’s a motto we take quite literally, providing simple, healthy, nourishing meals prepared by our in-house chef using fresh, seasonal, and home-grown produce picked fresh from our farm.” When asked about his date-harvested creations, Heenat Salma Farm Executive Chef, Ajaya Thapa, beaming with a smile, rattled off jam, syrup, cake, pie, tarts, pickled dates, compote, sorbet, smoothies, and more.
Like Chef Ajaya, you too can get creative with dates. Check out these Pure Eats inspired recipes.
Additionally, here are a few ideas to inspire your own creations.
· Include with other nuts and dried fruits as part of a charcuterie board
· Stuff or wrap for a hearty sweet or savory appetizer
· Blend into smoothies or stir into a latte
· Chop into pieces for oatmeal, cookies, energy bars or balls, breads, salads, yogurt, or ice cream
· Press to make into syrup, paste or butter – as a natural sweetener for brownies or breads, or to top pancakes and waffles
· Raw or dried as an energy-rich snack
Keep your eye out for the Annual Date Festival (Festival Khaled) in late July/August in the Souq Waqif (Al Ahmad Square).
More information about Date Tours & Picking at Heenat Salma Farm (July - October) can be found at https://store.heenatsalma.earth/products/date-harvesting
Ellen Masters Postel is a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach supporting individuals reach and even exceed their personal goals. Additionally, she finds great enjoyment learning about the history and culture of the Middle East and more specifically her home away from home - Qatar.
Special thank you to Jill from Pure Eats for organizing the afternoon exploration.