Date = تمور

The History of the Date

The date was one of the earliest cultivated crops in the Middle East. It is believed to have been first cultivated in Eridu in Mesopotamia or along the Nile Valley in Egypt. In fact, the date palm became an emblem of Upper Egypt due to its supposed sacredness to the sun god Re. It was also found in Eastern Arabia around 4000 BCE. These ancient cultures also linked the date with fertility.

Later on, the Romans used more than the fruit itself; they liked to use the date palm tree as a decorative motif in mosaics. From the Roman Empire, the use of date palm trees as graceful decorations spread to the Byzantine Empire.

Due to the Moors, the date diffused into Europe through Spain during the Al-Andalus period.

Growing and Using Dates Today

Dates continue to be grown today in Iraq, which has been one of the largest exporters of the fruit. Date palms also found today in the French Riviera, Spain, Greece, southern Italy, and Sicily. Dates are a staple in the cuisines of Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Iran, and the Arabian Peninsula. In the United States, Coachella Valley (yes, like the music festival’s

namesake) is known for its date palm trees!

The date palm is featured as a symbol on the Saudi Arabian royal emblem, showing the cultural significance to this central Middle Eastern country.

In the Arab world, the date is more than just a fruit as well; it can be pressed into cakes, used as food for animals, or crushed to make spreads. Date stones (found inside the fruit) can be crushed and mixed with flour to create a nutty-tasting bread.

In the Arabian Peninsula, dates are often paired with coffee because they contrast with its bitter flavor. Syrups made from dates are popular. Dates stuffed with marzipan or walnuts act as popular desserts in the eastern Mediterranean region.

The date had important significance for people in the Middle East who had a nomadic lifestyle. Its long life when dried and its high nutritive value made the date a perfect food for people who had to move around to support their livelihood.

Another use for the date palm tree is wood for building. The wood does well in dry climates—another aspect that works well with the MENA region. In Arab markets today, especially in Saudi Arabia, one can find carved palm wood from old houses. Palm fronds can be used for making baskets and thatching roofs.

Varieties of Dates

There are about 1,500 types of dates! The “Bahri” date palm was introduced to California from

Deglet Noor date

Basra, Iraq in 1913 and is known for its fruit with thick, flavorful flesh. The “Deglet Noor” date is found mostly in Algeria and Tunisia and was introduced to California in 1900. It is not as sweet as “Bahri” dates. “Zahdi” date is the oldest-known variety and is consumed throughout the Middle East. The “Zadhi” date was also introduced to California in 1900 and is a very sugary variety.

Halawi date

Zahdi date

The Right Climate for Dates

Date palms require full sun, making parts of the MENA region perfect for growing dates. They can grow in warm climates in which the temperature doesn’t drop below 20ºF. Date palms can even tolerate long periods of drought, which also makes them great for growth in the Middle East. Date seedlings take about 6 to 10 years to fruit. They develop in four stages, each known by a different word in Arabic: kimri (unripe), khlal (full-size, crunchy), rutab (ripe, soft), and tamr (ripe, sun-dried).


Lunde, Paul. “A History of Dates,” last modified 03/01/1978,

“Date,” last modified October 28, 2011,

Spanier, Ethan. 2012. “Dates”. In The Encyclopedia of Ancient History, Rogers. Bagnall et al. Hoboken: Wiley.



The Jaffa orange is not just a coveted, sweet fruit; it is a symbol of the prolonged Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to Israeli director Eyal Sivan’s website, “The history of the orange is the history of this land” (  

Although the Middle East had been producing citrus fruit for many years, it was not until the mid-1800s that the Shamouti orange (later known as the Jaffa orange) started being produced in the region. Named after its city of origin, the Jaffa orange is a mutation of the sweet Baladi variety. In addition to navel and bitter oranges, it is one of three varieties grown in the Middle East region. The Jaffa orange is unique with its oval shape and its relatively low number of seeds. Furthermore, its characteristic thick skin makes it very suitable for shipping. Jaffa oranges are strictly for consumption and not juicing because of their inherent lack of juice.

According to Charles Issawi in his book An Economic History of the Middle East and North Africa, the Jaffa orange was first mentioned in British consular reports in the 1850s. In 1881, exports of Jaffa oranges were valued at approximately £50,000. By 1913, Jaffa orange exports reached £300,000. Jaffa oranges were traditionally grown in both Palestine and Israel, with Israel being the predominant grower in more modern times. Recently, the agricultural sector of Israel’s economy has shrunk and along with it the Jaffa orange industry. For political and agricultural reasons, Jaffa orange cultivation has shifted away from its native groves surrounding Jaffa.

In the past, both Jews and Arabs worked together to produce the Jaffa oranges, from the fields to packaging.  This was a source of revenue for thousands of Palestinians (  Between the two world wars, the amount of Jaffa orange orchards was evenly split between the Arabs and the Jews. After 1948, however, many Palestinian Arabs were forced to flee their land. Through this void the Israeli army took over the orchards previously controlled by the Palestinian Arabs (  

Today, the Jaffa orange represents the troubled history of the Israeli/Palestinian region.  Israeli director Eyal Sivan, who directed the 2009 documentary Jaffa, The Orange’s Clockwork, wrote,“While the orange become the symbol of the Zionist enterprise and the state of Israel, for Palestinians it symbolises the lost of their homeland and its destruction” ( Sivan’s documentary studies the evolution of the Jaffa orange from its origins to its commercialization and present connotations.  Over the years, other types of oranges developed and the Jaffa variety became less in-demand.  According to National Geographic, “Once Israel’s most famous export, hardly any Jaffa oranges are grown today, for reasons both political and agricultural” (  The Jaffa oranges one can buy today are most likely not from Jaffa, but more probably from Spain.  Orange production has moved from Israel to Spain for financial reasons; however, the “Jaffa” brand name remains.  “Jaffa” oranges are popular in Britain, where they have even developed Jaffa Cakes (  As was the case in the mid-20th century, politics plays a large role in the production of Jaffa oranges.  Many ideologically charged groups push for widespread boycotts of Jaffa oranges.  They believe this is one way to support the Palestinian side in this ongoing conflict.       


Israeli Jaffa Orange-Ginger Chicken


4 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Salt to taste

1 tablespoon baharat  (or to taste)

1 tablespoon ground ginger (or to taste)

4 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup white wine

1/3 cup orange liqueur

1 cup chicken broth

4 tablespoons honey

1 1/2 cups orange juice

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

2 teaspoons orange zest

2 tablespoons finely chopped crystalized ginger

2 oranges, peeled and sectioned

2 tablespoon toasted almonds, chopped (optional)

Here’s what you do

  1. Cut chicken breasts in half lengthwise. Mix with salt, baharat and ground ginger
  2. In heavy frying pan, heat oil and saute the chicken gently, just a few minutes on each side to brown. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
  3. Add the wine, orange liqueur, chicken broth, honey, orange juice and fresh ginger to the pan and simmer to reduce slightly until a light syrup has formed (about 15 minutes).
  4. Return chicken to the sauce in the skillet, add zest, crystallized ginger and almonds, cover and simmer for about 5 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.  Add orange sections and heat just until warm.
  5. Serve on a bed of couscous or rice

Works Cited

Aderet, Ofer. “The Forgotten Story of the Original Jaffa Oranges.” Haaretz. 21 June 2015. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.

Blau, Christine. “One Man’s Quest to Keep the Jaffa Orange Alive.” The Plate One Mans Quest to Keep the Jaffa Orange Alive Comments. 11 May 2015. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.

Charles, Charles. An Economic History of the Middle East and North Africa. London: Methuen, 1982. Google Books. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.

“CorpWatch : Mehadrin “Jaffa” Oranges May Come from Occupied Palestinian Land.” CorpWatch : Mehadrin “Jaffa” Oranges May Come from Occupied Palestinian Land. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.

Crystal, Meirav. “Jaffa Oranges – Made in Spain.” Ynet. 27 Feb. 2011. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.

“Eyal Sivan – Director, Jaffa – The Orange’s Clockwork, Brussels Mediterranean Film Festival 2010.” YouTube. YouTube. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.

“” Web. 18 Oct. 2015.

“Jaffa Oranges: Pride and Propaganda.” CJPME: Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East. July 2013. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.

“Wild Turtle Crossing.” : Roses Are Red.Oranges Are . . . Orange. Chicken Israeli-Style. 13 Feb. 2011. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.

Olives are among the oldest known cultivated trees in the world. They are a species specifically suited for a Mediterranean climate and are grown extensively along the Mediterranean coast. Olives were cultivated about 8000 years ago in Anatolia, where it spread to the Middle East, North Africa and Southern Europe (Efe). The olive was spread throughout Mediterranean Europe and North Africa very early, due to its ease of vegetative propagation and cultivation in dry climates (Jordi).

The olives and culture surrounding it were spread to surrounding areas by Muslims when the Roman Empire fell and the Umayyads carried it to Gibraltar in 711 where Andalusia’s large olive groves got their start. Arabs who stayed in Spain for about eight centuries (711–1492) contributed to the development and establishment of olive culture there (Efe).

The first recorded evidence of olive cultivation was in the excavations in Palestine and Jordan dating back to 3750B.C. Olives have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs and pyramids, such as tools used to squeeze olives that were discovered in the oldest step pyramid in Saqqara (2500 B.C), and images on the walls of that pyramid that depicted the olive squeezing process (Efe).



Olives have had religious significance in the Middle East for thousands of years. Olives, olive oil, olive trees and olive branches are mentioned many times in the bible and the Quran.  The Greeks believe “it was Athena, goddess of wisdom and war who gave mankind the divine fruit. The Romans also coveted the precious crop, and later the Venetians shipped it around the Mediterranean from Palestine to Morocco and Spain” (Efe). Especially in religious households, olive oil was a precious daily commodity, and it was believed that large supplies of oil were a sign of prosperity and that disobedience to God would result in a loss of the olive crop (ODU). The oil “honored both God and men and was a component of the anointing oil of the high priest” (ODU).

One of the reasons people have taken interest in harvesting olives for thousands of years is due to their rich nutritional value. Olive trees are also a “very stable source of food production and income because the trees are extremely long-lived (up to 1000 years) and tolerant of drought, salinity and almost total neglect, and so have been reliable producers of food and oil for thousands of years” (Jordi). Olives play a big role in the economics of the Mediterranean world because of those reasons. Many products are extracted from the olive tree, including olives, olive oil, olive wood, and olive based soap (Alwazir). Palestinian Arabs cherish the olive oil they harvest from their trees, for “a simple Palestinian breakfast is just bread and olive oil, often dipped first into a spicy mixture of herbs and salt” (ODU).

Israeli and Palestinian Conflict

The olive tree, a universal symbol of peace was an object of tension in the Arab-Israeli conflict in 2001-2002. The uprooting of the ancient olive trees by Israeli forces, as a byproduct of war, had tremendous effects on the Palestinian agriculture, economy, and identity (Alwazir). Since Israel took over the West Bank in 1967, 135 Jewish settlements have been built there as well as around 100 unauthorized “wildcat” outposts, which are considered illegal under Israeli law, UN figures show. These outposts mean the confiscation of Palestinian farmland, and the loss of these farmers’ livelihoods (Middle East Institute). Olive trees a major commercial crop for Palestine, are an important resource as they provide olives, olive oil, olive wood, and are used in making soap. Olive oil remains Palestine’s second largest export and in 2002 accounted for 4.6 of their national GDP. The olive tree is not only prized for its importance as a major crop economic crop but also for its historical presence, its beauty, and its symbolic significance.

Rank Country/Region Production

(in 1000s tonnes)

Cultivated area

(in 1000s hectares)



World 19,894 9,635 20.598
01 Spain 7,869 2,330 29.781
02 Italy 3,182 1,144 27.806
03 Greece 2,000 850 23.529
04 Turkey 1,750 799 21.916
05 Morocco 1,416 598 22.839
06 Syria 1,095 684 15.997
07 Algeria 611 295 14.237
08 Tunisia 562 1,780 4.848
09 Egypt 460 53 87.273
10 Portugal 444 343 12.931

“Main Countries of Production (Year 2011 per FAOSTAT).” Food and Organization of the United Nations. Web.


Home Pickled Olives


The tastiest olives are the ones you pickle yourself. Read on for ways of upgrading store bought olives too.

Olives are eaten with almost every meal in the Middle East, sometimes even at breakfast. Organically grown olives are the most delicious. Dried and salty or plump and succulent, glowing in gem-like green, black, brown, and purple, olives have their own displays in supermarkets and open-air markets everywhere (see Karin’s post on Israeli fresh food markets). Some people like their olives hot with fiery chilis. Some prefer them tangy with preserved lemons, or mellowed with bay leaves. You can pickle and season fresh olives by the kilo if you want, and it’s not hard.

It’s in autumn that olives are harvested and appear in the markets. But if you missed the season, a recipe for improving supermarket olives follows this one.

The olives marinate in plain salt brine, changed daily, for a week. During that time their original bitterness will leach out into the water. In the following 4-8 weeks, they marinate in fresh brine and seasonings.


1 kilo fresh olives



After a week, you will need:

Olive oil

4 cloves garlic, peeled and halved

1 lemon, sliced

chili peppers to taste

2 bay leaves

Optional: oregano, thyme, rosemary, grains of black pepper, allspice


Knife or clean rock

Mason jar or other large jar with a tight-fitting lid

Rinse the olives and drain. Discard any spoiled ones.

Either cut three slits in each olive or crush them with a clean rock, a few at a time. If crushing, only press hard enough to crack them open, not mash them.

Put the olives in the jar.  Cover them with water. Make sure there are none floating – weigh them down with a small saucer or drape a clean recycled plastic bag over the surface of the water to keep them under.

Change the water every 24 hours. Do this for a week.

The olives will lose their bright color as their bitterness leaches out. When the olives are uniformly darker, taste them to judge if they’re ready for brining. If they’re still bitter, soak them and change the water for another few days.

Once the olives are ready, drain them and put them in a large bowl while washing out their jar. Make a brine. This is:

10 grams of salt for every 100 ml. of water or  7 tablespoons of salt per half-cup of water.

Mix well.

Replace the olives in the clean jar. Pour the brine over all. Add herbs and spices to taste.

Cover the olives with plenty of olive oil to exclude air and prevent spoilage. Close the jar.

Leave it alone for a month, then taste an olive every week or so till you’re satisfied.

Always remove olives for serving with a clean, dry spoon. Keep the majority in their brine and seasonings – they will only improve.

How To Make Cheap Olives Delicious

Pour out the brine they came in, and as above, season with garlic, peppers, bay leaves, and lemon. Pour 1/4 cup dry red wine over them if you wish. Cover them with olive oil. Store in the fridge and eat after 1 day to allow the flavors to penetrate. The olives will stay good 1 week.



Alwazir, Atyaf. “Uprooting Olive Trees in Palestine.” Uprooting Olive Trees. American University, Nov. 2002. Web. <;.

Efe, Recep, Abdullah Soykan, Isa Curebal, and Suleyman Sonmez. “Olive and Olive Oil Culture in the Mediterranean Basin.” Balikesir University, Department of Geography, n.d. Web. <;.

Kresh, Miriam. “Home-Pickled Olives.” (2010). <;. Copyright 2007 – 2015 Green Prophet, 30 Dec. 2010. Web.

Jordi, Rebecca. “Olive.” (2006). Horticulture. University of Florida Nassau County Extension. Web. <;.

“Olive.” (2006). Plants of the Bible. Old Dominion University. Web. <;.