The cultural and religious significance of dates in the Middle East and North Africa cannot be overstated. These small, oval-shaped fruits can be traced back to 4,000 B.C. in ancient Arabia, and have continued to be cultivated for millennia. Today, besides being culinary staples, dates are considered meaningful symbols of abundance, power, triumph, righteousness and faith.
At Havenly, we have a variety of date-based products, such as kleicha cookies and tamriyeh. The latter is one of our most popular treats. Tamriyeh, walnut-filled organic date bites, are particularly special to head chef and co-founder Nieda Abbas, who hails from Iraq, the world's top exporter of dates. Last year, the country exported approximately 700,000 tons of dates. The government also plans to continue investing in the industry.
Dates have long been praised for their value, especially in a spiritual context. They are often imbued with a sense of mysticism, and considered as holy. Dates and date palms are mentioned in the Quran 23 times. They have also been mentioned in the scriptures of Abrahamic religions, as well as other Islamic texts. They are referenced frequently in hadiths, which are collected traditions based on the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad.
For instance, in the Sahih Muslim hadith, the Prophet emphasized the importance of dates in one's diet, expressing that "people in a house without dates are in a state of hunger."
In the Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal hadith, the Prophet is quoted as having said to "break your fast by eating dates as it is purifying." This is still the case today during the holy month of Ramadan. As indicated by the Prophet, dates are eaten at the beginning of iftar, which is the meal eaten by Muslims to end their daily Ramadan fast. Dates and date-based dishes are also commonly seen in other festivities and special occasions.
The most precious kind of date in Islam is the black, round-shaped ajwah, which leaves a sweet and smooth taste in one's mouth. They were praised by the Prophet Muhammad as being from 'paradise,' and are mainly grown in the holy city of Medina, located in modern-day Saudi Arabia. It was stated in Muhammad al-Bukhari's famous hadith collection, Sahih al-Bukhari, that "whoever eats seven dates of the High Land of Medina in the morning will not be hurt by poison or sorcery on that day."
However, the Middle East is home to a wide variety of dates. Growing up in Iraq, Nieda and her family sourced barhi dates, which are yellow and crunchy. This variety, when picked at a particular ripeness where the skin is thin, gives away to a smooth, sweet and creamy interior that tastes like brown sugar and caramel. After pitting and pressing the dates, what is left is sweet, rich molasses that can be preserved for months or even years.
With this ready supply of dates, Nieda's family found different ways to create treats and desserts throughout the year. During the month of Ramadan, Nieda's grandmother used to create a square variation of what is now Havenly tamriyeh. As Nieda started taking ownership of cooking in her childhood home, she and her mother found that her grandmother's large tamriyeh could be made into quicker, round-shaped bites. This is currently the shape Havenly's tamriyeh are in!
Nieda also made other changes to the tamriyeh. In her childhood home, tamriyeh were exclusively paired with sesame seeds. However, as she grew older and started to live in different countries, she found new and exciting ways to adorn her desserts.
Nieda's vibrant international exposure inspired the three flavors of tamriyeh offered at Havenly: sesame, coconut and pistachio. In addition to sharing the traditional version, she also wanted to provide novel alternatives. She liked coconut, as she found that the nutty and sweet profile of it brought a subtle kind of sweetness to an already candy-like desert. She was also drawn to pistachio, as it tempered the sweetness of the date while adding a crunchy texture to the exterior.
Tamriyeh are relatively versatile treats, and can be easily customized. Other countries often even have their own versions of this dessert. For instance, some sources affirm that ancient Egyptian recipes for their variation have been found on ostraca, shards of pottery used for writing, from as far back as 1,600 B.C.
In addition to fantastic taste, dates and date-filled treats possess many health benefits. They do not only enrich the blood and clear toxins in the body, but are also fat-free, cholesterol-free and sodium-free. They are also rich in nutrients, vitamins and minerals, including calcium, copper, potassium, phosphorus, iron and magnesium. Dates and date-based desserts are loved by and suitable for people of all ages, from children to pregnant women to the elderly.
Tamriyeh is marked by an economic, cultural, and religious importance coupled with a candied taste like no other. Experience Havenly's tamriyeh in three exciting, delectable flavors - each of them a mouthwatering and heartwarming reminder of the power of intergenerational culinary innovation.
This post is part of Hikayat Havenly, a series of food highlights that tell a story of immigration and resilience.