DATE PALM (deraḵt-e ḵormā, naḵl; Phoenix dactylifera L., fam. Palmaceae), dioecious tree of great economic and cultural importance in Persia and the Middle East. It is indigenous to the geobotanical “Sahara-Sind region,” a desert or semidesert belt extending from the Indus valley to North Africa (Gauba, 1951, p. 15; for distribution of the date palm in this region, see Dowson and Aten, p. 2; Dowson, tr., pp. 20-37). It is believed by some authorities to be native to the Persian Gulf area (Erbe) and by others to have been derived from the the wild or date-sugar palm of western India (Hindi ḵarjūra, Phoenix sylvestris Roxb.; Zargarī, IV, p. 525; for a possible linguistic relation between Skt. kharjura and ḵormā “date” [Mid. Pers. xurmā], see Laufer, Sino-Iranica, p. 391).
The date palm in historical sources.
Date-palm cultivation is attested in ancient texts and representations from Mesopotamia (e.g., Gauba, 1951, p. 15; cf. Hussain, tr., pp. 1-4; Dowson, tr., p. 25). In the Fertile Crescent the goddess Mylitta (Mesopotamia) or Astarte (Phoenicia) was represented by a female date palm. The attributes of the god Mithra may have included the male palm and the pyramidal cypress (Lajard, pp. 7-8, 273), as depicted on a marble relief of Roman provenience kept at the Villa Altieri, Rome (Vermaseren, pp. 152-53 no. 334, fig. 91; cf. Cumont, p. 195).
In the Achaemenid period, according to Strabo (15.2.7, 16.1.14), there was a Persian song on the 360 uses of a date palm. On a contemporary seal Darius is depicted on a chariot between two (female) palms and beneath the winged Ahura Mazdā (Plate VII; cf. Survey of Persian Art, pls. 123A, G-H, 124D). Zoroastrians regarded the date palm as the most valuable of all trees except the mythical Gōkirin (Bundahišn, tr. Anklesaria, p. 157). There is a report of agricultural taxes in the time of Ḵosrow I (531-79 C.E.), including 1 dirham for every four “Persian” date palms and 1 dirham for every six palms yielding dates of inferior quality (daqal); isolated palms were exempt from taxation (Ṭabarī, II, p. 962). In particular, dates from the province of Ḥīra in Mesopotamia (armāv ī hēratīk), when stuffed with walnuts (cf. the modern rangīnak, below), were considered a royal delicacy (Xusrō i Kavātān, par. 52; cf. Ṯaʿālebī, Ḡorar, p. 708; cf. the Pahlavi commentary on Vd. 2.28 in Avesta, tr. Darmesteter, II, p. 27). In the Parthian poem Draxt ī āsūrīg (ll. 1-27), a debate between a she-goat and a female date palm, the latter enumerates the benefits to humankind from her fruits, leaves, fibers, and so on.
A wealth of ancient lore on the date palm is included in the Ketāb al-felāḥat al-nabaṭīya, allegedly translated from Syriac by Ebn Waḥšīya in 291/903-04 (VII, pp. 51-271). The Kasdānī (Chaldean?) Yanbūšād is cited (VII, pp. 86-98) on similarities between the date palm and humankind: the existence of males, females, and hermaphrodites (ḵonṯā); similarity in the odors of date pollen and semen; the supposed susceptibility of the female palm to falling in love with a nearby male palm; comparable longevity; and erect stature (cf. Dīnavarī, p. 303 no. 26; Qazvīnī, pp. 177-78). Māsī Sūrānī (?) is cited (Ebn Waḥšīya, VII, pp. 55 ff.) as source for the claim that date palms were native to an island named Ḥārakān (the modern Ḵārg?) near the Persian coast; there were four kinds: two that grew at a distance from the sea, the ancestors of the šahrīz and barenī varieties of date, the ripe fruits of which were black and yellow respectively, and coastal varieties, the ṣarafān and ṭabarzad (see below).
Abū Ḥanīfa Dīnavarī (d. ca. 282/895) explored the rich Arabic terminology for the date palm (naḵl;II, pp. 293-324 no. 1061). Persian geographers from the 10th century onward have mentioned many date-growing localities in Persia (e.g., Eṣṭaḵrī, pp. 35, 90, 93-95, 127-28, 153-54, 166, 168, 200, 231, 233-34, 237, 274; Ḥodūd al-ʿālam, ed. Sotūda, pp. 91, 103, 127, 132, 141). In the 12th century Ebn al-Balḵī (p. 140) reported that in the coastal districts of Korān and Īrāhestān in Fārs date palms were grown in deep pits, in order to make maximum use of the limited winter rain; only the crowns of full-grown trees showed above ground.
Early European travelers also counted dates among the best Persian fruits. Marco Polo (ca. 1272) mentioned the extensive plantations of Yazd, Kermān, and Hormoz, remarking that the inhabitants of Hormoz lived “chiefly upon dates and salted fish” and made from dates and other ingredients “a good kind of wine,” which caused “an immediate flux” to those unaccustomed to it (pp. 41, 43, 46, 48). Don García de Silva y Figueroa, the Spanish envoy to Shah ʿAbbās I (996-1038/1588-1629), frequently mentioned date palms in southern Persia, particularly in Moḡ/gestān, a coastal district near Jāsk. On the island of Hormoz he noticed that most local houses were made of canes covered with palm fronds; better houses had flat masonry roofs, where on hot nights wooden “beds” were partitioned off with palm wattles. In Lārestān and Jahrom dates were the staple food and the main article of trade; Figueroa believed those from Lārestān superior in size, color, and taste even to those of Baṣra and Iraq, which had from Xenophon’s time always passed for the best in Asia. In Jahrom he reported a “dense forest of palms . . . a good league long and half a league wide,” divided by mud walls into about a thousand plots, each containing between twenty and seventy trees belonging to a family or individual and “most of which were higher than the highest church tower in Europe.” Some palms bore “up to fifty date clusters,” weighing 30 pounds each; the inhabitants claimed that some clusters weighed more than 60 pounds. Figueroa believed that the quality of Jahrom dates was owing to the soil and to careful irrigation with well water (pp. 32, 34, 37, 39, 50-51, 77, 352-54). Later in the 17th century Jean Chardin (p. 157) asserted that Persian dates were tastier than those of Arabia and that the best were from Kahūrestān in Bandar-e ʿAbbās province, Sīstān, Persepolis, and the Persian Gulf littoral, particularly Jahrom. They were exported “dry in bunches, or loose,” but mostly “preserved in their own juice . . . in great gourds from 15 to 20 pound weight.” He recommended moderation to those unaccustomed to eating dates, for otherwise “they heat the blood,” a symptom called garmī “heat” in popular Persian medicine, even causing skin eruptions and weakening the sight.
Engelbert Kaempfer, a German physician who accompanied the Swedish ambassador to the court of Shah Solaymān in 1085/1684, discussed all aspects of the “palma dactylifera” (pp. 659-754). He recorded many vernacular terms (probably from Bandar-e ʿAbbās and the Hormoz area) related to palms and dates, some of them still used. He also distinguished two kinds of palm in southern Persia: cultivated and wild. The latter, called Palma sylvestris persica by Kaempfer and locally nicknamed Abū Jahl, was popularly believed to grow from date pits scattered on sterile soil. It must be the indigenous dwarf palm, Nannor(r)hops ritchiana (Griff.) Aitch., with tiny, almost inedible fruit, which grows wild in parts of southern Afghanistan, western Pakistan, and southeastern Persia, reaching a height of 2.5-3 m (Zargarī, IV, p. 528). Among its vernacular names are marez in Afghanistan (Ṯābetī, 1355 Š./1976, p. 480), mazrī and kīlū in Pakistan (Bamber, p. 129), phiš in Baluchistan (Mayer, p. 138), and dāz (Īrānšahr, Nīkšahr; Ṯabetī, 1327 Š./1948, p. 119), pīš, po/ūrk (Bašākerd), mazārī, ḵū, and kākol-zard “yellow-crowned” in Persia (Parsa, V, pp. 57-59, VIII, p. 125). The fruit may be eaten during famine (see BALUCHISTAN i, p. 606), and its sturdy fronds (2-3 feet long; Bamber, p. 129) are used to make baskets, mats, cordage, hats, and the characteristic Baluchi sandals; in Afghanistan beads are sometimes made from the date pits (Hamadānī, p. 37; Ṯābetī, 1355 Š./1976, p. 480).
As the earlier geographical sources suggest, date palms grow in Persia as far north as the oases along the northern border of the Dašt-e Kavīr (for details, see Dowson, tr., pp. 21, 29-32). Reliable data are available only for the period 1326-59 Š./1947-80. In 1347 Š./1968 about 2 percent of Persian arable land (1,367 km2) was planted with 20-26 million palms, yielding approximately 325,000 metric tons of dates annually (ʿEnāyat, p. 1; cf. Rūḥānī, pp. 273, 278, 283: 20-21 million, yielding 170,000-310,000 metric tons). Annual domestic consumption, concentrated in the southern coastal provinces, was estimated at 90,000-190,000 metric tons (Rūḥānī, p. 278). In 1369 Š./1990-91, 42,840,453 kg of dates were exported, a total value of Rls. 1,483,785,186 (ca $1,059,847); 39,596,024 kg went to Dubai (Gomrok, 1370 Š./1991, p. 574).
Although Persian dates are among the world’s best, adverse factors have impeded their production and export. Aside from inherent factors (e.g., the interval of five to ten years or more before female palms bear fruit, the skill required for hand pollinating trees and harvesting the fruit) that do not permit quick profits, environmental, social, and administrative conditions also play a role. There is a shortage of sweet water for irrigation, and in districts irrigated by saline fluvial or marine waters, especially along the Arvandrūd (Šaṭṭ-al-ʿArab) and Bahmanšīr rivers (Ābādān, Ḵorramšahr, Mīnū islet), date plantations gradually die (Komīsīūn, II, p. 1650; on similar conditions at Mīnāb, cf. ʿEnāyat, pp. 57, 68). Another problem is inadequate rural roads connecting the plantations, many of them in remote desert areas, with distribution and packing centers (ʿEnāyat, pp. 49, 70).
The prevailing methods of harvesting, sorting, storing, and packing the crop remain primitive and unsanitary (ʿEnāyat, pp. 55, 56). In the date groves pests and diseases often rage unchecked, with resulting spoilage of about 50 percent of the annual crop; to this percentage must be added the approximately 100,000 tons of dates lost annually through fermentation and spoilage owing to improper handling and storage (ʿEnāyat, pp. 50, 66, 76). The low standard of living among most date cultivators and their inability to invest in better irrigation and drainage systems, sanitary storage and handling facilities, and the like force them to sell their expected crops before the harvest (salaf-forūšī), at about 20 percent below market prices. These problems are aggravated by lack of coordination among growers, packers, domestic merchants, and exporters through efficient local cooperatives and trade unions (ʿEnāyat, pp. 50, 57, 66, 72, 76; Edāra, p. 21). Regulation of standards, prices, sales, and exports is nonexistent or inadequate, with the result that goods vary in quality. In these conditions both growers and dealers, fearful of spoilage, often sell at very low prices to unscrupulous middlemen and traders, both Persian and foreign (cf. Sāzmān, pp. 82-84, on the emigration of date-farm laborers from Tangestān province to urban employment and the shift of land especially to cultivation of tobacco, which brings a quicker income).
Government and private processing and packing installations seem inadequate, though no current information is available. In 1347 Š./1968 there were sixteen small private packing houses in Ḵorramšahr (ʿEnāyat, p. 70) and a large state-owned plant equipped with machinery supplied by Hayʾat-e ʿamalīyāt-e eqteṣādī-e Āmrīkā dar Īrān (the American AID mission in Persia), with an annual processing capacity of 3,000-5,000 tons (Faršī, 1339 Š/1960a, p. 86). Before the war between Persia and Iraq in the 1980s there was also a plant producing 5,000 tons of date syrup (šīra-ye ḵormā) and about 2,500 tons of residue for cattle feed annually. Nearly 4.2 tons of syrup were obtained from every 6 tons of dates (Edāra, p. 16); it was used in chocolate, biscuits, canned food, and the like.
During the eight years of the war between Persia and Iraq, which involved the most important date-growing areas of both countries, there was severe damage to the plantations of Ḵūzestān and Kermānšāhān (Qaṣr-e Šīrīn and Ḵosravī; Sāzmān, p. 12; Edāra, pp. 29-38). The destruction of dams and irrigation installations flooded the groves, rotting the roots and contributing to a proliferation of weeds and pests, and spraying was prevented by the war. Some statistics, if reliable, suggest the sad state of date cultivation in Ḵūzestān (Edāra, p. 1). In the years 1362-63 Š./1983-84 and 1363-64 Š./1984-85 respective yields were 141,052 and 30,577 metric tons, a drop of more than 78 percent (Edāra, p. 11). War damage in Ḵūzestān may be further estimated from official statistics of date trees and production for the whole country in 1367 Š./1988-89: 12,981,000 palms (of which only 7,844 were fruiting trees), with a yield of 173,940 tons (Markaz-e āmār, p. 54).
Terminology. The long-standing cultivation of dates in Persia has engendered a rich vocabulary of vernacular terms, which have been generally neglected by Persian philologists. There are only two partial lists of classical Persian equivalents or definitions for terms from the vast Arabic vocabulary related to the naḵl or naḵīl and tamr (generic term for dates). The first is a short list in the earliest extant Arabic-Persian dictionary, by Zamaḵšarī (467-538/1075-1144; I, pp. 106-08; see DICTIONARIES i). The second is a longer list compiled by Maydānī (d. 518/1124; pp. 513-18). Modern studies or lists at this writer’s disposal include those by Georges Redard for the hamlet of Ḵūr (partly supplemented by Farahvašī, pp. 21-22; Ḥekmat Yaḡmāʾī, pp. 240-42 and passim), Īraj Afšār and M.-R. Moḥammadī for Bāfq (pp. 193-94), Aḥmad Sāyabānī for the dehestān of Fīn (in the šahrestān of Bandar-e ʿAbbās); Koji Kamioka and Minoru Yamada for Lārestān (pp. 21-22), Īraj Rūḥānī for Jahrom and adjacent localities (pp. 254-63, 269-72), and Sāzmān-e barnāma wa būdja-ye ostān-e Būšehr for the šahrestān of Tangestān (pp. 1-9 and passim). Ahmad Parsa (VIII, pp. 139-41) has included a list of eighty-four names (without a gloss) for date varieties in Makrān. Isolated dialectal terms also occur in some articles and vernacular glossaries (e.g., Sotūda).
Vernacular names for the date palm include mō/og, Ḵūr (cf. Mid. Pers. muγ); mok, Kermān; moḡ, Fīn; moḵ/h, Tangestān; moḵ, tarak, Jahrom; mˊug/ḡ (?) Bandar-e ʿAbbās, Jīroft, and so on (Rūḥānī, p. 272); Baluchi mòk, Dezak; mač, Zābol; māč, Čāhbahār (all recorded by Redard, p. 215 n. 2); and faṣīl, Lārestān (cf. faṣīl “small young palm” and naḵīl “tall old palm” in Tangestān). A young palm grown haphazardly from a date pit is called pešk (originally “date pit”) and ḵorost (< ḵod-rost, lit., “grown by itself”) in Fīn and m/harvās in Tangestān. A date-palm grove or orchard is generally called naḵlestān, bāḡ (garden), šahr (Bašāgerd; Redard, p. 215 n. 1), mog/ḡestān (Ḥekmat Yaḡmāʾī, p. 240), or naḵīlāt (an Arabic word found in some modern sources).
The date palm is propagated only by planting shoots (pājūš; vernacular names: Ar. faṣīla; damīd, Ḵūr; dīmīt, Tangestān, properly a shoot having developed roots while still attached to the mother palm; cf. mokoš < mohkoš “palm killer,” baḵtakan, without independent roots and thus a parasite on the mother palm, Jahrom) of male or female palms eight to ten years old. Artificial pollination (nar māyo, Ḵūr; gošn dādan, Bāfq; sāḵtan, Jahrom; bū dādan, Tangestān, Ḵūzestān) is performed in two ways: Either the pollen (garda) is sprinkled on pistillate flowers (as at Ḵūr; Redard, p. 215), or some staminate spikelets (toreng, Bāfq) are placed among the pistillate spikelets, which are then loosely tied together with a string (as at Jahrom, Tangestān, etc.; Sāzmān, p. 93; Rūḥānī, pp. 17-19 with illustrations). This task is performed by skilled workers (māher, Jahrom; zaʿīm, Bandar-e ʿAbbās, Jīroft, etc.), who usually share the crop with the owner (Rūḥānī, pp. 17, 271). They tie a strong rope belt (parvanda, Ḵūr; parven[d], Fīn; parvand/g, Tangestān; parvand, Jahrom; parand, Bandar-e ʿAbbās, etc.; farvand, Ḵūzestān, Iraq) 2-3 m long, made from palm leaflets, around the trunk as an aid in climbing (for a more elaborate version with a wooden prop, used in Tangestān, see Sāzmān, p. 6). Depending on the female variety, regional conditions, and so on, two to five male palms are required to pollinate one hundred females. Not all male palms produce suitable pollen for this process (Redard, p. 215; Sāzmān, p. 93; Rūḥānī, pp. 17, 76). In Tangestān newly planted palm shoots are watered from a kantal, consisting of two large tin vessels suspended from the ends of a wooden bar that is carried on the shoulders (Rūḥānī, p. 73). Shoots of desirable varieties used to be obtained gratis, but after severe war damage to the palm groves of Ḵūzestān they were selling for Rls. 800-1,000 apiece (Sāzmān, p. 51). Stunted shoots (kačakī, Fīn) are discarded, but the edible white medulla (koj, panīr, lit., “cheese,” Jahrom) is enjoyed for its crisp sweetness in Fīn (Sāyabānī, 1362 Š./1983, p. 873).
Felling healthy date palms is considered unlucky, the death of each tree being tantamount to that of a person (Sāzmān, p. 10), but sterile male palms and terminally diseased or infested palms are cut down; the trunks are used in construction (cf. Pliny, NaturalisHistoria 13.9). According to the traveler Sven Hedin (apud Redard, p. 218 n. 4), the felling of a doomed palm tree is usually postponed until the mourning days of Moḥarram (cf. Ḵūr, where panīr kardan “making cheese,” i.e., cutting down a palm for its medulla, is usually carried out on a holiday; Ḥekmat Yaḡmāʾī, p. 256 n.).
Crown and terminal bud. Usually the trunk of the date palm is topped by a single crown (tāj; bašn “top,” Draxt-ī āsūrīg, l. 25; kalle mog, Ḵūr) comprising the fronds (pīž), the terminal bud, and the date clusters, though the tabarzal palm of Iraq may branch into two, three, or even four crowns (Hussain, tr., p. 41). All these elements are tightly interlaced at the base of the crown, which is protected by layers of tough, intertwined brown fibers (pīž/j, Ḵūr). These fibers are separated by soaking, then twisted and braided into cords (sāzū, Ḵūr), ropes, mats, and the like (Redard, p. 219; Ḥekmat Yaḡmāʾī, pp. 249-50). When a date palm is to be cut down, the fronds and date stalks are first cut off with a toothed sickle (dās-e pangbor, Tangestān) about 30 cm long and curved at the tip; then the top of the trunk is peeled to lay bare “the crisp delicious tissues of the terminal bud” (Milne, p. 276; dallak, Ḵūr; del-e moḵ, Tangestān) and the underlying pith, which is sawed off at its base. The pith, weighing 3-7 kg, is a crisp white marrow called “palm cheese” (panīr-e mōḡ, Ḵūr; kūd, Fīn), bland but highly nutritious (Redard, p. 219). At Fīn (Sāyabānī, 1362 Š./1983, p. 873), Jahrom (Rūḥānī, p. 270), and probably elsewhere the expression panīr(-e naḵl) also refers to the edible marrow (koj, Jahrom) of the basal part of the date stalk (20-30 cm long) discarded during pollination. This marrow is sweet in some varieties but somewhat bitter in others (for medicinal uses, cf. Dioscorides, 1.150). Cutting off the terminal bud will kill the palm (pace Pliny, NaturalisHistoria 13.9), even if the whole tree is not cut down.
Each frond (šāḵa; be/arašk, galga, Ḵūr; šāḵ-e boḡ, kod-e ḵormā, Bāfq; pīš, Kermān; taḡ, Fīn; peš, Lārestān; gorz, Tangestān), measuring up to 4-5 m in length, has three parts: the spatulate base (kava/ešk, sāḡarī, Ḵūr; kondelū, Bāfq; taftūk, taḡot,Fīn; aspakū, Lārestān; tūḵatak, Jahrom; tāpūl, Tangestān), attached to the trunk; the strong, spiny stalk (bāskīn, lows,Ḵūr; lot,Fīn; tātūk, Bandar-e ʿAbbās, Jīroft, etc.) and midrib (gorz, Tangestān; taḡ, Bandar-e ʿAbbās, etc.), 1-2 m long; and the pinnate section, or leaflets (be/arašk, Ḵūr; boḡ, Bāfq; balg-e pīs, Kermān; pīš, Fīn; pīš, pūš, Jahrom), about 40 cm long. The bases of cut fronds are left on the tree to serve as footholds, and each year the dried old bases (tāpūls, etc.; kaženg, Ḵūr) are pruned for use as fuel and sometimes as floats for fishing nets; in Tangestān a wooden mallet (dokū) and a kind of chisel (eškena) are used for this purpose. The copious tough fiber (sīs, Bāfq, Fīn; perī, Lārestān; parīče, Jahrom) from the juncture with the trunk is used in the manufacture of ropes, doormats, and, in Fīn, primitive footwear for laborers (on processing and braiding parīče in Jahrom, see Rūḥānī, pp. 251-53). The stalks are also used as fuel and, with the spines removed, for threshing; at Ḵūrwomen use them for beating laundry. The leaflets are woven or braided into a variety of baskets (mostly for packing or carrying dates), mats, lids, bags, caps, brimmed hats, fans, and so on. They are also bundled into brooms (for braiding and weaving at Ḵūr, see Redard, pp. 217-18; Ḥekmat Yaḡmāʾī, pp. 247-48; for Fīn, Sāyabānī, 1363 Š./1984, pp. 150-54).
Dates and pits. The spadix (abare “male spadix,” Jahrom) of the palm, whether male or female, develops within a spathe (kavīle, Ḵūr; kāškīlū,Kermān; kārček “dried spathe,” Fīn; tārūne, Jahrom, Shiraz; tāre,Tangestān). At Shiraz a distillate (ʿaraq-e ṭ/tārūne) is obtained from the fresh, fragrant male spathes; it is advertised as a “hot” tranquilizer and soporific, an “unequaled nervine,” and “very useful for rheumatism, articular pains” (from a brochure published by Iran Targol Co., Tehran; cf. Tonokābonī, p. 730). The fertilized female spadix gradually develops into a cluster of dates (hǖ, Ḵūr; pang, Kermān, Fīn, Lārestān, Jahrom, Tangestān), consisting of a main stalk (tambar, Ḵūr; ḵošmalg, Bāfq; bokom, kowsala, Lārestān; narī, Tangestān) branching into many peduncles (terend/t, Ḵūr; teleng, Fīn; šen, Tangestān), to each of which several dates are attached by hard perianths (kolāhak, kūna; kolā[h]ū, Ḵūr; kālū, Bāfq; kofār, Lārestān; kalāfa, Jahrom, etc.; see Dowson and Aten, p. 70).
Traditionally between five and seven stages of maturation were recognized. Ḥakīm Moʾmen Tonokābonī (comp. 1080/1669-70; p. 215, s.v. tamr) reported seven: ṭalʿ or walīʿ, inflorescence (male or female), when the spadix is still encased in the spathe; balaḥ (Pers. ḡūra-ye ḵormā), with tiny green dates; ḵalāl, in which the dates are becoming yellow and sweet; bosr, when they have become yellow and sweet; qasb (in the Ḥejāz; Pers. ḵormā-ye sang-šekan; qasbak in Fārs; Jazāyerī, p. 156), in which the dates are still dry; roṭab, in which the dates are ripe and juicy; and tamr, in which ripe dates have withered slightly on the tree. In modern terminology the equivalents to the ṭalʿ and qasb stages are not usually distinguished (for names at Fīn, see Sāyabānī, 1362 Š./1983, pp. 873-75). Fresh dates in the ḵalāl (ḵā/arak; hārak, Ḵūr; ḵārak, Jahrom, Tangestān; ḵara/ūk, Kermān; harak/g, Makrān) stage are seldom served or sold other than locally. They are usually boiled, dried until they are very hard and wrinkled, then pitted and threaded on strings; in this form they will keep a long time. Certain varieties are preferred for this purpose: in Makrān (Pakistan) the mozātī; in Mīnāb and elsewhere the hallo, mordār-sang, šāhānī, šakar-pāra, and zarag; in Ḵūzestān and Iraq the ke/abkāb (in Iraq čebčāb) and bore/aym (Dowson and Aten, pp. 84-85, 89, 89-90). Commercial ḵāraks are generally brittle and pleasantly sweet.
Usually each date has a pit (hasta; pešk, Ḵūr; kolpī, Bāfq; dendel[ū], Kermān; eštak, Fīn; astok, Lārestān), though at Šahdād there is a small (26 x 18 mm) seedless variety, of fine quality, called bī-dandalū or hasekū (Dowson and Aten, p. 6; Komīsīūn, II, p. 1651). For both genetic and practical reasons date pits are not used for propagation of valued palms. Owing to their nutritious content, however, they are sometimes ground domestically into a meal that is fed, by itself or mixed with herbage, to cattle (ʿEnāyat, pp. 9-10; Rūḥānī, p. 248). According to Ḥekmat Yaḡmāʾī (p. 253), people of Ḵūr used to save them to grind into flour during famine. As there are no mills for date pits in Persia, quantities are exported to other countries in the Persian Gulf area, where they are milled commercially for cattle feed (Edāra, p. 16). In Persia date-pit charcoal is used by smiths to polish gold and silver articles (Rūḥānī, p. 248).
Varieties. Although the generic term for dates in Persia is ḵormā (Mid. Pers. xurmā, armāv;Parth. amrāw; Arm. loanword armav;Pashto ḵorma; Baluchi ḵorma, hòrmag, ormāg; Ḵūrī hòrma; Lārī ormā; Redard, p. 216 n. 1; Elfenbein, p. 89), there are approximately 400 varieties of dates (Dowson, tr., p. 82) known by a plethora of vernacular names, many of them synonyms, variants, or corrupted forms. In Ḵūzestān and Kermānšāhān the names are generally those used in Iraq (for descriptions of the most common or important varieties in various parts of Persia, see ʿEnāyat, pp. 23, 28-37; Rūḥānī, pp. 254-63; Sāyabānī, 1362 Š./1983, pp. 875-78; Sāzmān, pp. 106-07; Redard, p. 216; Faršī, 1339 Š./1960b, p. 77; Komīsīūn, II, p. 1651; Dowson, tr., pp. 82 ff.). The most productive variety is the barḥī; depending on conditions, each tree may yield up to 250 kg of dates a year. It does not normally live longer than twenty years, however (Wezārat, p. 10). The sāyer date palm, which accounts for more than 90 percent of the date crop in Ḵūzestān and ranks first in Persian date exports, produces an average of 18-20 kg of dates a year and remains productive for 100 years, with a peak between the ages of twenty and sixty years (Wezārat, p. 10; Rūḥānī, p. 254; Dowson, tr., p. 64). The best dates in Persia, however, ranked with the famous daqalat-al-nūr of Algeria, are the šāhānī of Jahrom and the możāfatī of Bam. The latter, a dainty, dark-red variety and the most expensive in Persia, is not readily exportable because it is at its best when ripe and juicy and thus subject to spoilage. The šāhānī, constituting the greater part of the crop from Jahrom, is the most esteemed variety in Persia. The honey-colored ašrasī of Qaṣr-e Šīrīn, rated second quality; the commercially unimportant dates of Ḵūr and Bāfq, harvested and consumed at the ḵārak stage; the seedless porkū of Šahdād; and the dark-yellow batābe (?; 6-8 cm long) of Ḵāš are mainly consumed locally. The inferior ḵā/arūk of Bam is fed to cattle (Faršī, I/7, p. 77; Rūḥānī, p. 255; Dowson, tr., p. 32; ʿEnāyat, pp. 30-31, 37, 60, 71).
Domestic and commercial uses.
Culinary uses. Pitted dates, whole or mashed, are the main ingredient in several Persian confections and a principal component in a few cooked dishes. Hard dates (picked at the ḵalāl stage) are cooked and added to rešta-polow (a traditional rice dish made on the eve of Nowrūz) and ʿadas-polow (lentil pilaf; Montaẓemī, pp. 567, 571; Hekmat, pp. 70-71). Several sweets are made with mashed ripe dates or date syrup, for example, ḵormā-berīzū (Kermān; ḵormā-berīz, Fīn), in which date paste is kneaded with wheat flour fried in ghee (Sotūda, p. 67; Sāyabānī, 1362 Š./1983, p. 879); čangāl (Fīn), a paste of soft dates kneaded with roasted and ground wheat grains (Sāyabānī, 1362 Š./1983, p. 879); ḥalwā-ye ḵormā, mashed fresh dates mixed with fried flower, spread on a platter, and cut into lozenges, served at funeral ceremonies and on the holy days of Ramażān and Moḥarram almost everywhere in Persia (for a Šīrāzī variant, see Hekmat, p. 140); arda-ḵormā, date paste kneaded with arda (ground sesame) and spices like cardamom and ginger, then flattened and cut into lozenges (Shiraz); and ḥalwā kanafī, thick date syrup mixed with hemp seeds (Kermān; Sotūda, p. 64). More complex pastries include kolomb/pe, fried mashed dates combined with chopped walnuts, cinnamon, and cloves, then shaped into small balls, wrapped in thin pieces of leavened dough, and baked, usually at Nowrūz (Kermān; Sotūda, p. 137); komāč/j-e se(he)n, two layers of dough made from ground wheat and sehen (malt) holding a layer of mashed dates, sprinkled with ground walnuts, cumin, and nigella seeds and baked (Kermān; Sotūda, p. 139); rangīnak, pitted roṭabs, stuffed with walnuts and coated generously with fried flour, then sprinkled with cinnamon, powdered sugar, and sometimes chopped pistachios and then cut into lozenges (originally a Šīrāzī sweet but now popular all over the country; Hekmat, p. 142; Sāyabānī, 1362 Š./1983, p. 880).
Manufacture and uses of date syrup and sap. Date syrup (šīra-/šahd-e ḵormā; robb, seylān, Ḵūzestān; dūšow, Ḵūr) is obtained either by pressing fresh dates (producing an average of only 2 kg of juice per 100 kg, and thus expensive) or by boiling dates of poor quality to a syrupy consistency and straining them. The residue (hal, Ḵūr) of the latter process is fed to cattle (Rūḥānī, pp. 243-44; Sāyabānī, 1362 Š./1983, p. 880; Dowson and Aten, pp. 114, 354). Date syrup is used in various sweets, to preserve or pack choice dates in earthenware jars, and on bread as a main dish. In Ḵūzestān syrup from the surplus date crop is consumed locally and also exported to the islands and emirates of the Persian Gulf; a factory for vacuum-packing the syrup in metal boxes was recently established in Ḵūzestān (ʿEnāyat, p. 28; Rūḥānī, p. 245).
Whereas in Pakistan the sap of Phoenix sylvestris is systematically collected to make date sugar (gūr; Balfour, I, p. 896), in Persia sterile male date palms and female trees that produce low-quality dates are sometimes tapped for šīra: After the young male or female date clusters have been cut off, a container is fixed under the tip of each severed stalk to collect the sap, which continues to rise for weeks or, in female palms, even months. It contains up to 14 percent sucrose, which crystallizes as sugar when the sap is boiled down; the residual molasses is fermented for wine or vinegar (Milne, p. 275). Another alcoholic drink made from dates, ʿaraq-e ḵormā, was popular in southern Persia in the 19th century (Schlimmer, p. 179).
The date palm in literature and folklore.
Many casual references to the bountiful, shade-giving date palm are found in classical Persian poetry (see Dehḵodā, s.vv. naḵl, ḵormā-bon, etc.). A long, nostalgic poem devoted to praise of the date palm by Ḥabīb Yaḡmāʾī (d. 1363 Š./1984; quoted by Ḥekmat Yaḡmāʾī, pp. 268-70), a native of Ḵūr, is, however, unique in Persian literature.
Information about contemporary folklore concerning the date palm is scanty. The ill fortune associated with cutting down a healthy tree has already been mentioned. At Ḵūr two palm-wood sticks (jarīdatayn) inscribed with the Throne verse (Koran 2:256) are placed under the arms of a dead person, to serve him or her as a staff on Resurrection Day (Ḥekmat Yaḡmāʾī, pp. 254-55). In addition, the funeral procession is headed by a man who carries two green palm fronds on his shoulders, to be buried with the corpse; it is believed that, as long as these fronds remain fresh, the dead individual will be free from “the torment and pressure of the tomb” (Ḥekmat Yaḡmāʾī, p. 377). During the mourning ceremonies on ʿĀšūrāʾ (10 Moḥarram) a large wooden structure called a naḵl, which somewhat resembles a date palm, is paraded in some parts of Persia as the symbolic bier of Imam Ḥosayn.
In the past there seem to have been craftsmen, called naḵlband (lit., “date-palm tier/assembler”), who made ornamental wax replicas of date palms and artificial plants, flowers, and fruits (Borhān-e qāṭeʿ, ed. Moʿīn, s.v.; Ānand Rāj, s.v.).
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Originally Published: December 15, 1994
Last Updated: November 18, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. VII, Fasc. 2, pp. 117-124
Hūšang Aʿlam, “DATE PALM,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, VII/2, pp. 117-124, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/date-palm (accessed on 30 December 2012).