Safawi dates are a special variety of dates mainly grown in Saudi Arabia in the Al-Madina region.
Safawi dates are a soft, semi-dried date variety; characteristically identified by their particular deep black colour, their length and medium size. They share similarities with Ajwa dates such as taste. They are however more oblong in shape as compared to the Ajwa date. The Safawi variety of date palm is characterised by its productivity and this makes the dates easily available and easy to get at any time of the year as opposed to the rest of the other varieties. Although easily available, it remains one of the best date varieties and one of those with the highest demand due to the health benefits.
The Safawi variety of dates is cultivated mainly in the Al-Madina region of Saudi Arabia. It is also grown on a much smaller scale in other countries such as Pakistan, India and Malaysia. (Abul-Soad, Jatoi and Markhand, 2013)
Safawi dates are harvested during the warm summer months of July and August.
There are three main harvesting stages for Safawi dates. (Anon, 2016)
• Khalal stage in which the fruit is physiologically mature. It is hard with a high moisture content (50 - 85 %). It is scarlet red or deep red in colour. In this state it is easily perishable and this must be considered in its storage and packaging.
• Rutab stage in which the fruit ripens some more. It becomes darker in colour, partially browning starting from the tip. It has a reduced moisture content (30 - 45 %). Its fibres are softened and it is also perishable again requiring special consideration when being stored and packed.
• Tamar stage in which the colour changes; becoming darker, brown and almost black. The moisture content is reduced (almost 10-25%) and the fruit is considered dried. The texture also changes from soft and pliable to firm or hard, and the skin of the fruit also becomes wrinkled and pressed close to the flesh of the fruit. In this state the fruit id protected from insects. Due to its dried state it can also be kept for a longer period of time without taking much special precautions. This stage is the edible stage of the Safawi variety and this is the period at which it is harvested for human consumption. (Fao.org, 2016)
The Safawi date palm is one of the most productive varieties there is. The tree is able to produce a lot of fruit such that it is available throughout the year. Safawi dates are mainly consumed locally within Saudi Arabia. The demand locally is very high due to the attached religious and health significance. About 40% of the dates produced annually are consumed around the period of Ramadhan. They are also consumed by visitors to Saudi Arabia who come to perform the Hajj, which is the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
The dates are harvested at the Tamar stage when they are dry and have little moisture content. They are of high quality at this stage.
Exportation and consumer markets
Safawi dates are mainly consumed locally, within the countries in which they are produced such as Saudi Arabia. They are also packed and exported to neighbouring Middle East and Asian countries such as India, Pakistan and China. They are also exported to other parts of the world to countries in Europe such as the United Kingdom and to the Americas.
Shelf life and storage
Since they are harvested at the Tamar stage (after they have been allowed to ripen and dry on the trees), they have a low moisture content. This makes them suitable for export as they don’t require much specialized storage. They are packed in cardboard boxes. However, care must be taken not to expose the fruit to excessive heat or humidity. This is because it leads to hardening of the fruit and also causes an increase in the fruit’s sugar content which could make it easily go bad.
For retail consumption, the dates are packed in small plastic containers and sealed with transparent plastic wrap. This can be done either manually or automatically by machines and the dates are usually packed according to weight. In this packed state the dates can remain fit for consumption up to a year or two from the date of packing.
Safawi dates are consumed whole as freshly dried dates, as frozen dates, as stuffed dates with almond (or) cashew nuts, or coated with chocolate or sesame seeds.
They are also used to make other products such as energy bars, syrup, honey, pickles, pastes, spreads, fry powder, sugar, juices and vinegar.
Nutritional content and health benefits
Dates are primarily composed of carbohydrates, about 40-80%, most of which is the sugars glucose and fructose. They also contain a small amount of starch. 100g of dates provides about 284 calories. The sugar contained in dates makes them a good source of energy that is easy for the body to digest. They contain a good amount of dietary fiber both soluble and insoluble. Dates also contain at least 15 types of minerals. They are an excellent source of potassium. Other minerals and salts that can be found in various proportions include boron, calcium, cobalt, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, phosphorous, sodium and zinc. Dates also contain elemental fluorine that is useful in protecting teeth against decay. Selenium also found in dates, is believed to help prevent cancer due to its antioxidant properties and is thought to be important in immune function. There are also different kinds of vitamins in dates. This includes as a small amount of vitamin C as well as Vitamin A and B-complex vitamins such as B1 thiamine, B2 riboflavin, nicotinic acid (niacin). Dates are also a rich source of folic acid. (Al-Farsi and Lee, 2008)
Dates therefore contain suitable amounts of essential and non-essential amino acids e.g. aspartic acid, proline, glycine, histidine, valine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine and arginine thus increasing their nutritional value.
Dates are considered to have numerous health benefits. They have anti- inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties which have been shown to have potential benefit in the management of chronic illnesses such as cancer and diabetes. They have also been shown to have protective effects on various organs such as the brain and kidney by protecting them against oxidative damage. (Sciencedirect.com, 2016). They are also considered to be useful in fertility.
Seeds and seed content
The seeds of the Safawi date are also thought to have constituents with anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant activity. They also contain trace minerals such as cadmium and chloride.