It’s not only the date fruit itself that it a source of nutrients; so too is the seed of the fruit. Just like the fleshy part of the fruit, a date fruit seed is a valuable source of nutrients, vitamins and minerals.
What is it that’s in date fruit seeds that make them so good for us?
Well, let’s begin with the fruit itself. Date fruit – the fruit grown on the date palm – contains a high percentage of carbohydrate, sugars, fat, protein, dietary fibre, vital vitamins and 15 types of salts and minerals. In addition to this, the flesh the date fruit contains between 0.2-0.5% oil – less than the seed itself, which contains 7.7-9.7% oil. Given that the weight of the seed is only 5.6-14.2% of the actual date, but that it surpasses it in some areas of nutritional content, we shouldn’t underestimate the health benefits of the small – often discarded – part of the fruit as it is far from insignificant.
The nutritional value of the date fruit seed
One thing that date fruit seeds are loaded with is fibre – in fact, they contain 16-51% crude fibre. The fibre contained within date fruits and their seeds is primarily insoluble fibre, and studies have found that this kind of fibre binds to the fat and cholesterol in our bodies and carries it out of the body.
Whilst there are varietal differences, date seeds typically contain notable amounts of potassium, phosphorous, magnesium and calcium whilst being low in sodium. Of these micro elements, iron, manganese and copper are perhaps most important.
Whilst a range of both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids are present in both the date fruit and its seeds, the flesh of the fruit contains only 8 of these fatty acids, and in very low concentration. Date fruit seeds, on the other hand, contain a whopping 14 types of fatty acids; these include palmitoleic, oleic, lauric and oxalic acid. Oxalic acid in particular is plentiful in date seeds, with each seed containing 41.1-58.8% of this type of acid; this makes a strong case for chemically processing date seeds as a valuable source of oleic acid.
What's more, studies have shown that by feeding mice the aqueous extract of date seeds, they demonstrated anti-genotoxic (cell-protecting) properties and even reduced DNA damage. It makes sense that they will have the same or similar positive effects on us.
What are date seeds typically used for?
Traditionally, date seeds are mainly used as animal feed. Date by-products, of which the seed is one, are usually distributed to animals in the winter months, but can be utilised for their many useful properties all year round. One such use of the date seed, due to their high oil content (with antioxidant properties), is within the cosmetics industry in products such as soap. They also have a multitude of other uses; as a substitute for coffee, as a raw material for activated carbon, for absortion in dye-containing, for burning to make charcoal and can even be incorporated into necklaces.
As with any plant, the seed of the palm tree is its most basic part and is responsible for the production of a palm tree and the crops it bears. Growing a palm tree for crop production requires an enormous amount of patience – date palms, for example, can take 4 – 8 years after planting to bear fruit, and will only produce fruit suitable for commercial harvest after 7-10 years. In essence, growing a date palm, or any palm tree for that matter, is a slow and complex process.
Not only does it require patience, but producers must also ensure that the necessary conditions for growth are in place. To grow as it should, the date palm requires direct sunlight, and just the right amount of water; allowing the soil to dry out can be disastrous and stop the date palm from growing completely. Date palms also require fertilizer and just the right temperature, which restricts where they can be grown; typically, they are grown in countries with tropical climates (with temperatures above 20°C) and this is where we find the main producers; Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Algeria to name a few. They are also common in warm areas of the United States. Although there are varieties of date palm which can tolerate cold conditions, these rarely bear fruit.
Once it is planted, a date seed will germinate around 100 days later. One of the oldest methods of producing date palms rapidly in and in great numbers is by planting seeds; this is considered the main source of all kinds of existing seeds in the world. Unfortunately, this method is now only used for non-food uses such as palm breeding programs and wood production, and is no longer used for producing date palms to bear dates.
So how do date palms reproduce? Well, date palms are dioecious, meaning they have differently sexed trees. Growers tend to use one male tree to fertilize up to 100 female trees at a time. It is the female date palms that actually produce the fruit. Of the date palms produced from the seed, approximately half are male and half are female, and distinguishing them can be impossible. Produced plants are also not genetically similar to their mother.
Another reason why reproduction by seed is avoided is that there are numerous disadvantages to this method. Reproduction by seed can result in palms that bear fruit later than they should, and there is a lack of uniformity in tree growth and size of fruit, as well as enormous variation in colour. Perhaps most importantly, the quality of the fruit is greatly decreased.
One pullulation method that seeks to overcome this is known as palm tissue planting. This involves manufacturing date palms that are identical to the mother plant, meaning all desirable parental attributes (resistance to diseases and pests, for example) are transferred to the produced plant and, subsequently, the time it takes for seedling production is considerably increased.
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