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FRUIT, TROPICAL AND SUBTROPICAL

DATES

The date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) has been cultivated in the Middle East since ancient times, where it has as- sumed a role as more than simply a source of food and become culturally associated with Islamic culture. In the words of the Prophet Muhammad, “There is among trees one tree which is blessed . . . it is the palm.” The date palm is adapted to areas with long, very hot summers with little rain, low humidity, and abun- dant underground water. This is expressed by the saying that the date palm “must have its feet in running water and its head in the fire of the sky.” These conditions are found in oases and river valleys in the arid subtropical deserts of the Middle East, the area of origin of the date palm. This is the “Fertile Crescent,” where agriculture in the Old World is thought to have arisen. The date palm has been cultivated in this area since about 7000 B.C.E., and was possibly one of the first crops domesticated. By 2000 B.C.E., date palm culture had spread to Palestine, Arabia, Egypt, North Africa, and western India. Date palms or their wild progenitors were undoubt- edly used by man even before actual cultivation began. A date palm oasis must have been a welcome sight to those crossing the desert. Here were water, shade, and fresh and dried fruits high in carbohydrates. The dried fruits were easily stored and transported after leaving the oasis. The date palm also supplied building material, fiber, fuel, animal feed, honey (syrup), and wine. The date palm had great spiritual and cultural sig- nificance to peoples of the region. It is depicted on many ancient tablets, bas-reliefs, and so forth. The date palm is mentioned a number of times in Jewish and Christian writ- ings, but achieved its greatest esteem in Islamic culture. The date palm was consecrated by Muhammad in both his public and private life, and is prominently mentioned in the Koran and in other Islamic writings. Date con- sumption spread from Arabia along with Islam, and dates are now eaten by Muslims in areas unsuitable for their production, such as Indonesia and Thailand. Date culture

eventually spread to non-Islamic countries with suitable growing conditions, but its culture and consumption in these areas is minor compared to that in the Islamic world. In the early twenty-first century, the Middle East is still the center of date production and consumption. The largest producers of dates are Egypt, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. Most dates are consumed locally, but there is some export, mostly to other Islamic countries that do not have suitable growing conditions. Production of dates is highly specialized and labor-intensive. There are great variations in date growing practices: from traditional oa- sis culture to modern industrial plantings. The United States has led the way in mechanization of date pro- duction, but this practice is spreading to other countries as they modernize.

There are thousands of local varieties of dates grown in the Middle East. Other countries have a more limited number of varieties derived from a few importations. Re- cently, barhee and medjool have become increasingly prominent due to their use as foundation materials for tissue-cultured plants. The use of tissue-cultured plants has become common in some countries as the increase in land area devoted to date culture has expanded be- yond that which can be planted with offshoots, the tra- ditional method of propagation.

Dates are consumed fresh or in processed form. Fresh market dates are divided into dry, semidry, and soft varieties. In Middle Eastern countries, they are also eaten in the early khalal stage. Dates are nutritious, being high in carbohydrate and fiber. In most varieties, the sugar content is mostly invert sugar (glucose and fructose), with only low levels of sucrose. Processed products are more common in the Middle East, where large amounts of dates are produced, than they are elsewhere. Processed products include sugars, pastes, flours, preserves, syrups, and fermentation products.

Robert R. Krueger

utilization of horticultural plants in large metropolitan areas (Gosselin et al., 1999).

Commercialization and Trade

In addition to citrus and the banana, four other tropical and subtropical fruits, pineapple, mango, avocado, and papaya, dominate the fresh fruit export trade (see Box 4). Pineapple clearly leads the ranking in processed fruits with a wide range of products, although juice and rings in syrup are the best known.

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Many other tropical and subtropical fruits are no longer exotic products in world markets, having become firmly established with guaranteed supply and reasonable prices. Carambola, guava, litchi, mangosteen, passion fruit, and rambutan have experienced notable develop- ment. The main importers of most of these tropical and subtropical fruits are the European Union, the United States, Japan, Canada, and China.

Exports of fresh fruits are mainly by ship or surface transport. Postharvest techniques for extending the shelf

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