Egyptians cut down on nuts and dried fruit in Ramadan as prices double

A rising import bill and currency devaluations have driven the prices beyond the reach of many in Egypt

A vendor sells dates and dried fruits at a market in Cairo ahead of Ramadan. AFP
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Nuts and dried fruit, both popular on most Egyptian iftar tables during Ramadan, have become too expensive for millions in the country this year after a record rise in food prices.

Sellers and customers say that even the middle classes are cutting down this year.

“Nuts and dried fruit have always been a luxury food for Egyptians," Reda Mahmoud, the owner of a nut and coffee roastery in Cairo, told The National.

"They’re not something that most people eat on a regular basis. But even so, last Ramadan I had a lot more customers with modest means than this year.

“Even my more middle-class customers are buying half or quarter kilos of items they used to take kilos of last year.”

Since last Ramadan, prices of every nut in Mr. Mahmoud's store have doubled, he says. A similar increase was recorded in the price of dried fruit.

Because most varieties are not grown locally, Egypt imports most of its wares.

Its import bill for nuts and dried fruit amounted to $50 million in 2021, according to a report published by Egypt’s state statistics agency Capmas.

A shortage of essential US dollars from Egypt’s markets brought on by the global rise in food and energy prices since the war in Ukraine, and three devaluations of the local currency last year, have driven up import costs significantly.

Walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios and almonds are almost exclusively imported to Egypt. Prunes and dried figs are also imported.

But raisins, peanuts, and qamaruldin, which are sheets of dried apricot puree — all popular additions to Ramadan desserts — are grown locally, which has kept their prices lower.

“Nut prices are tied to the dollar because our soil is not hospitable to growing most kinds here, so we have to import it,” Mr Mahmoud said.

"Import costs went up dramatically this year because of the rise in the dollar’s value. And suppliers were having a hard time even securing dollars outside the black market, which increased prices even further.”

Despite a marked drop in his Ramadan sales, about 20 per cent compared to last year, his profits have stayed the same.

“Even though people are buying less than they used to, nuts have increased in price so much that I am breaking even," Mr Mahmoud said.

"Also, you have to bear in mind that even now there is still a segment of Egyptian society which isn’t really that bothered about inflation and fortunately they’re my biggest customers."

His highest sales this year were of shredded coconut, raisins and peanuts.

Nuts and dried fruit are used abundantly in Ramadan desserts such as kunafa, qatayef, baklava and basbousa, which are customarily eaten daily during iftar, a meal that is typically communal during the holy month.

But this year, the higher cost of nuts has also changed the way that many poorer Egyptians are preparing their desserts.

Small changes

“I only bought peanuts, raisins and shredded coconut this year,” said Aziza Ahmed, 37, a lower-income resident of Cairo and mother of two.

"I am also using them in much smaller amounts than last year. I used to buy a kilo each of cashews, walnuts and pistachios for my kunafa and qatayef but this year they cost too much.”

Depending on quality, a kilogram of pistachios today costs between 500 and 800 Egyptian pounds ($16 and $25) compared to about 300 pounds last year.

The price of walnuts this year, which was also about 300 pounds last year, has risen to reach 500.

Almonds, hazelnuts and cashews have become too expensive for many Egyptians such as Aziza, whose household income is about $250 each month.

But raisins, shredded coconut and peanuts, which cost 70, 80 and 140 pounds, can still be afforded in smaller quantities this year.

Updated: March 31, 2023, 9:06 AM