Fasting during Ramadan is from sunrise to sunset. This tradition is rooted in religious teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, who is quoted as saying: “When one of you is fasting, he should break his fast with dates; but if he cannot get any, then (he should break his fast) with water, for water is purifying.“
Moroccan Muslims, like countless other Muslims around the world, follow a religious tradition of serving dates (tmar) at their Ramadan iftar table, with many making it a point to actually to break their fast with them. Dates are not only associated with Ramadan, however. The fruit is mentioned more than 20 times in the Quran, and they're favored by many Muslims for tahneek, the tradition of rubbing something sweet into the mouth of a newborn.
Healthy Aspects of Dates
What is about dates that make them an ideal and healthy choice for fueling an empty body? For starters, dates are high in sugar, fiber, minerals, phytonutrients, and (when fresh) vitamin C. They also contain potassium, magnesium, iron, and small amounts of protein and fat. Dates are easily digested, making them a quick source of energy and nutrients. Eating dates after a long day of fasting can help the body’s blood glucose levels quickly return to normal. When not fasting, consumption of dates before a meal will satisfy the sensation of hunger, which in turn helps to avoid overeating.
Dates in Morocco
Aside from their religious significance, dates were an important food among the Arabs and early Muslims, and this influence extended to Morocco, where dates have been cultivated for centuries. Dozens of varieties are grown for both domestic and international markets, with Medjool, Halawi, and Deglet Noor being among the most popular.
A few interesting facts about this naturally sweet and popular food:
- Dates are the fruit of the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) tree, which is most widely cultivated in the Middle East, North Africa, Central Africa, Southern Asia, and Southeast Asia.
- More than 40 varieties of dates are grown in Arabia alone; the same can be said of Morocco's date production. Depending on the variety, dates may be harvested soft, dry, or semi-dry.
- Dates have been consumed for at least 7,000 years and appear to have been cultivated for more than 2000 years.
- Date seeds can lie dormant for years or even decades when germinating conditions are unfavorable.
- In addition to tasting good, dates can be beneficial in treating constipation, diarrhea, and intestinal disorders, and they can help promote a healthy heart.
- Dates aren't just for people; Arabs in the Sahara are known to use dates as a feed for camels, horses, and dogs.
Moroccan recipes which call for dates include:
- Moroccan Stuffed Dates: These are delicious little treats, perfect for breaking your fast.
- Makrout With Dates and Honey: These semolina cookies came to Morocco via Tunisia and Algeria.
- Lamb or Beef Tagine with Dates: This easy Moroccan dish is tender meat and spices topped by soft dates in a cinnamon-flavored syrup.