Page update - Sep 23, 2022
When the word "agriculture" is used, Europeans imagine wheat fields and apple orchards, Asians consider flooded rice fields. UAE Arabs have other associations; they imagine an oasis and groves of date palms.
Dates are a key staple in the Arabian diet, an important part of their culture and the preferred gift brought back by tourists from the UAE. On this page, we will tell you the most interesting things about dates in the United Arab Emirates and give a lot of useful tips for tourists - how to choose the best and how not to overpay.
The prices on this page are current as of September 2022.
A date palm likes a hot dry climate and water, things that are rarely compatible. Some palm trees in the UAE grow in oases where the roots reach the aquifer. In some areas, the water problem is solved by artificial irrigation.
The largest, sweetest, tastiest dates grow up and ripen in the climatic zone of the Arabian Peninsula. The best dates in the world are considered to be from the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
The production of dates in the UAE is constantly growing. If in 1961 the whole country was growing only 6,000 tons, by 2001 the crop reached 300,000 tons, and now (this page was updated in 2022) they are already harvesting between 300,000 and 450,000 tons annually, depending on the weather conditions in a particular year.
The UAE is now the 4th largest producer of dates, behind only Egypt, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
There are about 40 million date palms in the country - for every inhabitant there are 4 palm trees. Dates take up 2/3 of the land suitable for agriculture, and dates account for 60% of the country's agricultural production.
UAE exports dates. The country owns 12.3% of the world market (data 2021). It is the third largest exporter in the world after Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. In 2020, the Emiratis earned 235 USD millions for their dates on the world market. However, the country also imports dates from Iran and Egypt.
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Many readers have an obvious question: why do the Arabs import dates into the country, if they themselves produce them in huge quantities? That makes sense. Tunisian, Egyptian, and Iranian dates are inexpensive; they "close" the cheap segment of the market. Guest Indian and Pakistani workers in the Arab Emirates also want to eat dates, and they don't have money for the expensive fruits grown in the UAE. We talked in detail about citizens and guest workers in the review "Population of the Arab Emirates".
Based on these facts and figures, it is already possible to give the first important advice for tourists. When buying dates in a store in the UAE, be sure to check the country of origin. What is the point of buying Tunisian, Iranian, and Egyptian dates? They are sold in Europe and America, and cost even cheaper than in the UAE.
Now there is no need to memorize this advice, we will gather all the important points below at the end of this page.
Dates are rich in vitamins and other substances a human body needs. Some books or pages on the Internet even write that a human can eat only dates. This is a misconception, because dates do not contain vitamin C and almost no fat, which are vital for a human body.
But if you combine dates and milk in the diet, then the set of necessary substances for your body will already be complete. This diet has been used for centuries by the Bedouins of the Arabian Desert. And not even centuries, but thousands of years. In the Emirate of Abu Dhabi on the island of Delmas in 1998, archaeologists found the remains of a settlement and the oldest date palm seeds, dating back to 5110 BC.
People have been cultivating a date palm for over 7,000 years. Now think about the variety of sorts and species of dates people have developed over those 7,000 years.
The UAE has a gigantic variety of sorts. The United Arab Emirates is the only country that officially classifies the varieties of dates, and the UAE University has been in charge of this work since August 2015. So far, they have identified and detailed 55 varieties, with a total of 150 to 500 varieties in the country (each industry expert gives a different figure).
To buy really good dates in the UAE, you need to understand the varieties at least on a basic level. We will talk about the most popular and best varieties in detail later on this page.
Dates from the UAE (exactly grown in the UAE) can cost from 30 to 300 dirhams per kilogram, depending on the variety and quality of fruits. See the current exchange rates of the Emirati currency in our review "What is the money in the UAE".
Salah Abdulah al-Musa (director of the agricultural research department of the UAE Ministry of Environment and Climate Change) gave a detailed and accessible account of pricing. He says the following:
"The price depends on the variety, size, color, thickness, softness, and sweetness of the fruit."
"What matters is the place where the dates were grown. Fruits from oases are always better and more expensive than those from the coast. For example, Medjool requires a dry climate and a source of water, then the fruit grows the right size and taste. It is the low humidity that makes it possible to grow large fruits."
"Some varieties are grown in limited quantities, hence the high price. Some areas of the country and oases boast fruits with a unique flavor and aroma, but the harvest is also limited, such fruits have a higher price."
The most expensive varieties from the UAE are Khalas, Barhi, Dabbas, Lulu, Fard, Khenaizi, and Sheesh.
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You can buy dates in supermarkets, specialty stores, at markets. Each place of purchase has its own advantages and disadvantages.
In supermarkets, the prices are low, the fruits are sold in packs, but the range is limited. At markets the range is excellent, the prices are low, but there is a great chance to buy cheap and tasteless dates under the guise of an expensive variety. In specialty stores, tourists are not cheated, the range is awesome, but the prices are high.
The first thing is to look at the country of origin. There is no point buying Tunisian, Egyptian, or Iranian dates which can be bought several times cheaper in your homeland country. Choose only fruits grown in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman.
Secondly, it is better to buy factory packages. There are countries in which it is forbidden to bring in food products with no factory package. Please check the entry customs rules of your homeland country. Fruits in the original factory packaging will certainly pose fewer questions from the customs. For more details see our page "What and how much can be taken out from the UAE".
And also! Remember there are countries with limits or even denial on bringing in food products. Please check the entry customs rules of your homeland country.
Thirdly, it is better to focus on a few certain varieties beforehand. Study what the fruits of those varieties should look like, what color and size. There is no point in learning all the varieties in detail.
Fourth, ask for beautiful packaging. If you buy in a specialty store, ask for branded packaging. If you buy in a self-respecting company store, this service is free. In packaging, the gift will be more presentable, and the customs will have fewer questions.
Fifthly, look at the date of harvest. The harvesting of dates in the UAE starts in August and ends in November. Be sure that you buy the fruits of the last harvest.
Sixth is the appearance. Choose only undamaged and symmetrically shaped fruits. There should not be any defects on the skin. If the seller at the market puts clearly defective fruit, ask to remove that fruit from your order.
If dates are sold on a branch, this is only a plus. It is a guarantee that the fruit has not been on the ground and has no parasites inside.
Bateel stores are considered as the best place to buy dates in the UAE. Bateel company calls its stores the phrase "boutiques for gourmands". You can buy date fruits of dozens of varieties and a wide range of sweets there.
Sweets and cakes that are baked on the spot are world famous. The calling card of the Bateel brand is the sweets made of dates with almonds inside and covered with chocolate glaze. Gift sets of candies, dried fruits and cakes are popular with tourists.
Bateel - it's delicious, high quality, with a guarantee, but expensive. For example, a kilo of Medjool dates costs 195 dirhams (88 per pound). If you can find them in the supermarket, you can get them twice cheaper.
In the UAE, you can buy some very exotic products made from date fruits and date palm.
Syrup made from date palm juice is a very interesting product. It is similar to maple syrup. It is not an Arab national product, this syrup was invented in the Canary Islands. It is used in cooking, most often for baking.
Coffee mixed with date palm seed powder is interesting. The taste is unique, although the European tourists are unaccustomed to it. In the UAE, date palm seeds are used to make fragrant soap and kohl - eyeliner.
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Medjool is called the "King of dates". We recommend buying this variety first of all.
The word "Medjool" is translated from Arabic as "unknown". Medjool dates originate from Morocco. The fruits are medium in size, dark brown in color, and moderately sweet in flavor. See the photo below, click on the photo to enlarge to full screen.
Sheesh (aka Sheshe). One of the most common in the UAE.
It is highly recommended for Europeans, as the fruit of this variety is not as sugary in taste. The color - bright brown with light spots on the ends, the taste - moderately sweet, the fruit of this variety is distinguished by a thick skin.
Khalas (aka Kolas, aka Holasa). Considered to be a premium variety.
The name is translated as "enough". Originally from Saudi Arabia. Its color is a deep brown, and its size is medium. The taste can be described by the word "caramel". The fruit has a high fiber content. The Emiratis eat these dates with coffee.
Fard is also very popular.
The fruit is small and shaped more like a ball than an ellipsoid. In the Arab Emirates, the fruits of this variety are believed to be good for the immune system. The variety is expensive.
Barhi is interesting because date palms of this variety do not grow on the coast, only in oases in the desert. Hence the price is high.
The word is translated as "hot wind". The variety is widespread because of its very high yield of 80-120 kilograms per tree. The color of the fruit is dark brown and the size is medium or larger than medium.
Good luck shopping for gifts in the UAE, and read other informative pages about this country on our website (see list of the pages below).
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