Give dates their own appellation

We should promote our rich food heritage by marketing based on the place of origin

Syrian Shellal cheese is among a variety of popular cheeses used among the local Emirati community in the UAE. Delores Johnson / The National
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Arab food has a rich, proud and diverse heritage, as our Arts&Life section’s feature on cheeses makes clear. Varieties such as baladi, domiati, kashkawan, areesh and shellal each reflects the culture and identity of their place of origin. They are crucial ingredients in many traditional Arab dishes, such as kunafa.

But as catering specialist Hasan Amad, the vice president of purchasing at Abela and Co, told The National, Arabs seem to be lagging behind when it comes to mass-­producing and marketing our traditional foods, including Arab cheeses. For instance, many Arab cheese varieties are only popular in Europe through the historical influence of the Ottoman Empire. Few of the originally Arab recipes were improved and mastered.

This underutilisation of the cultural heritage of Arab cheese is emblematic of other unique products from this region that can be branded and marketed globally. For example, dates range in size, shape, weight, taste and texture in ways that are unique to the locations where they are grown. They are another example of products of a cultural significance that are also used in many traditional Gulf Arabian dishes, such as rangeena – a sweet dish made of dates, butter, flour and cardamom. These have long had a central place in the agricultural economics of the Gulf.

Culturally, the most prominent one is Ajwa, which comes from Al Aliya, a particular locality near Medina and was praised by the Prophet for its health benefits. While this has helped Saudi Arabia to market it regionally, there are many other types of dates that can be marketed properly outside the region.

Those who visited the Liwa Date Festival in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi, which concluded on Saturday, would have seen the variety on offer, including the popular lulu, khalas, dabbas, khunaizi, bu ma’an and farth varieties. Having an appellation system of branding these, similar to the way the French strictly control their cheese varieties, would not just offer economic opportunities but also help encourage those outside our region to get to know the different varieties of dates and discover their unique tastes.