Here, 2.3 million date palm trees produce more than 90,000 tonnes of date fruits each year. But beyond the sugary succulence of every bite, the towering trees and expansive groves play an important part of the local culture and economy — and have for thousands of years.
Date palms have always been a cherished crop for the civilisations that have made their homes in AlUla. In fact, inscriptions at Jabal Ikmah include prayers for the health of the date palm trees. The oasis has allowed date palms to thrive in the region since the 1st millennium BCE, when the Dadanites and Lihyanites inhabited the valley. Additionally, recent excavations of Nabataean tombs in Hegra have uncovered date necklaces, emphasizing the importance of the date palm’s role in ancient civilisations.
Sometimes called “the tree of life,” the date palm also provided communities with endless uses outside of sustenance. When thatched to make shelter, the fronds offered protection from the desert sun and winds, while more artistic weavings produced jewellery or intricately patterned baskets. The trees were also an invaluable source of building materials, giving ancient peoples a means of making rope, fencing and furniture.
So important is the tree’s role that the knowledge, skills, traditions and practices gained from the date palm earned Saudi Arabia a place on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2019.
Fed by the oasis and nourished by the valley’s fertile soil, date palms continue to thrive in AlUla. Soft and chewy date fruits naturally dehydrate and wrinkle as they age, with sizes and colour that differ depending on the variety. The types for which the region is most famous are barni dates, which comprise 80 per cent of the date fruit harvest each year. The plump but firm Mabroom is sweet and sticky, with rich notes of toffee, while Machrook dates are prized for their sugary aftertaste. Other popular varieties of the date fruit in AlUla include Halwa, Anbara and Majhool.
Dates are nutrient-filled fruits, brimming with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, protein and fibre. While dates make delicious snacks, they’ve also gained worldwide popularity as a natural sweetener. When packaged properly, dates will keep in a container at room temperature for several months or in the refrigerator for a year.
AlUla is open to visitors. Experience aspects of AlUla’s agricultural heritage at AlUla Fresh, where you’ll stroll paths that meander through flowering groves and see how dates emerge from AlUla’s famous palms. For even more date fruit delights, visit Hijrat Nora Farm, where 26 premium varieties of the ancient treasure are grown. While there, admire the farm’s brilliantly coloured peacocks and enjoy fresh dates with a robustly flavourful Arabic coffee.