1  The total sugars in the mesocarp of the date palm fruit is between 70 and 80%. Approximately 60% of the dry weight of the mesocarp at the Khalal and early Rutab stages of fruit development is sucrose. High-yielding varieties of date palm have fruit yield potentials of 12.0 tons~ha, equivalent to an estimated production of 7.2 tons~ha of sucrose if the fruit is harvested at the stage of maximum sucrose accumulation. The estimated sucrose production from the date palm compares very favourably with the world average of 6.6 tons~ha for cane- sugar and the beet sugar average of 5.6 tons~ha for Europe. The relatively high sugar content of the fruit suggests that the date palm may have an important agro-industrial future as a potential source for refined sugar. The date palm was one of the earliest tree crops domesticated by man, and its culture appears to have been well established in Iraq around 3000 B.C. (Popenoe, 1913). The palm is cultivated between 10 ~ and 35~ latitude, principally in the Near East, Middle East, north Africa, the Indus Valley region and the U.S. About 1.0 million people are engaged entirely in date palm cultivation. This figure ex- cludes those involved in the processing and packaging industry of the crop (Dow- son and Aten, 1962).

The palm is adapted to a xeric habitat and thrives well in desert environments unsuitable for most crops. Over 800 uses of the crop have been recorded (Purseglove, 1970). In the Western Hemisphere, the fruit finds its use in the biscuit and confectionary trade and also as a luxury dessert fruit. However, to many people in the Middle East and countries bordering the Sahara desert, the fruit is a major source of high calorie food.

The principal constituent of the date fruit is sugar and its total sugar content at harvest ranges from 70-80% (Samarawira, 1981). Despite the many uses of the crop, its potential economic use as a source for refined sugar has been hitherto unexploited. A less refined product, consisting of macerated, dried, and finely ground date pulp is marketed in the United States as "date sugar" (J. B. Car- penter, pers. comm.). The main objective of this paper is to focus attention on the date palm as a potentially valuable source of refined sugar. TAXONOMY The cultivated date palm, Phoenix dactylifera L., is a member of the Palmae. Approximately 19 species have been recognised in the genus (Carpenter and Ream, 1976). STRUCTURE OF FRUIT The fruit is a berry consisting of pericarp and seed; the pericarp, in turn, is composed of exocarp, fleshy mesocarp and papery endocarp. The seed consists

date palm

 

Of a hard seed coat, endosperm and embryo. Fruit size is largely a varietal char- acter, but size can be manipulated by cultural practices, such as fruit and bunch thinning (Nixon and Carpenter, 1978). Sugar accumulation occurs in the mesocarp during fruit development. FRUIT CLASSIFICATION Date palm fruits are classified commercially on the basis of skin texture as soft, semidry, or dry. Texture appears to be related to the moisture content and type of sugar in the mesocarp. The relationship between texture, moisture content and type of sugar in the mesocarp is shown (Table 1) in the classification of Saudi Arabian dates (Hussein et al., 1976). Soft dates are dates with more than 30% moisture, low sucrose sugar, but with more than 70% reducing sugars (glucose and fructose). Semidry types are dates with 20-30% moisture, 18-30% sucrose and 45-54% reducing sugars. The dry types contain less than 20% moisture with almost equal proportions of sucrose and reducing sugars (33-46%). FRUIT DEVELOPMENT Stages in the development of the fruit are important in relation to the amount and type of sugar that are accumulated. Fruit maturity is a varietal character, but in general it takes 6-7 mo for the fruit to develop to a tree-ripe condition. There are 4 easily recognisable stages of fruit development referred to as the

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