Visitors to the Kingdom are unlikely to have to wait long before being offered a staple of Sa’udi hospitality – the anything-but-humble date.
What does surprise many people, however, is the sheer number of varieties of dates that are grown here. There are 2000 different types of palm worldwide, of which over 200 can be found in Sa’udi Arabia accounting for over 32 million palm trees which supply about one fifth of the world’s dates.
Probably the three most popular are Sukkari – famous for being extremely sweet – native to the northern and mid regions of Sa’udi Arabia; Khalas, which is mainly grown in the eastern province; and Sullaj dates which are indigenous to Riyadh and can easily be identified for being white at one end and brown at the other.
Dried dates have a very high sugar content (accounting for more than 85% of their weight), and 100gm of dates provides the human body with all it needs in the way of magnesium, manganese, copper and sulphur, half of its requirements of iron and a quarter of its needs of calcium and potassium.
Sa’udi dates also have a high fluorine content as well as vitamin B, folic acid, proteins, fats, mineral salts and rare elements.
Palm trees bear fruit for some 75 years, though they live for up to twice that length of time.
It is normal to propagate palms by taking the suckers from female trees (as it is only the females which bear dates) and then planting them in a deep hole as close as possible to the water table without the risk of them drowning. Dates grow in large bunches.
One tree will produce between 7 and 10 clusters, each weighing 6 to 8kg, and produce 1,000 dates. It takes about 200 days from pollination to complete maturity.
Currently there are 42 processing plants in Sa’udi Arabia, with numerous date shops throughout the Kingdom, and if you talk to the owners of these shops you might well find yourself being given an invitation to see round a date farm. But there are date farms aplenty around the capital and it’s particularly nice to go and see the changing colours of the date fruits as they mature.
A good area to find an abundance of date farms is on the road from Al Hair going west towards Dirab.
From the southern ring road, take the Al Hair road going south for about 20kms.
Drive past the high security prison complex on your right, enter Al Hair where you see the enormous coffee pot, and then drive straight through the town and out the other side, down the escarpment road and turn right at the bottom, signposted to Dirab.
You'll drive through whole clusters of date farms for a few kilometres.
Eventually this road will meet up with the Makkah road whence you can turn right back into Riyadh.
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