Several thousand varieties of dates have been recognized, but those which have any commercial importance are limited to a few score, while those that are of real merit number only a few dozen, since many kinds owe their reputation not to excellence of flavor but, as do the Elberta peach and the Ben Davis apple, to good shipping and keeping qualities.
Varieties are usually classified as "soft" (or "wet") and "dry." Orientals classify them by color (yellow or red, before they are cured); by keeping quality; and as "hot" and "cold," according to whether a long-continued diet of them "burns" the stomach or not.
The classification of "soft" and "dry" (which sometimes has been complicated and confused by the insertion of an intermediate class of "semi-dry") is commercially convenient, but not absolute; for practically any soft date may become a dry date under certain atmospheric conditions, and most dry dates can be made soft by proper management and artificial maturation.
The dry dates predominate in most parts of North Africa, including Egypt, being preferred by the nomads because they are easily packed and not likely to spoil. On the other hand, practically all of the dates which the world recognizes as valuable are soft varieties. In the following list, which includes the most important kinds from throughout the world, there is only one unmistakably dry date (Thuri), which, though recognized as good in its Algerian home, is given a place in this list mainly because it has succeeded particularly well in California. There are three others (Asharasi, Kasbeh, and Zahidi) that would probably be considered dry, but cannot be un-equivocably placed in that class. Asharasi and Kasbeh are much softer than the typical dry date, while Zahidi at one stage of its maturity is typically soft, and is widely sold in that condition, although if left long enough on the palm it becomes actually a dry date. All the other varieties in the list are typically soft, but most, if not all, of them will be converted into dry dates if left to ripen on the trees in a sufficiently hot and dry climate.
The American and European markets are accustomed only to soft dates, and as most of the good varieties are soft, growers will naturally give attention to soft kinds by preference. A market for dry dates, in America at least, will have to be created before any large quantity can be sold. Nevertheless, Americans who have eaten good dry dates usually like them, and frequently consider them preferable to those soft dates, such as Halawi and Khadhrawi, which (often under the trade name of Golden Dates) have until recently been almost the only varieties on the American market.
Amri. - Form oblong, broadest slightly above the center and bluntly pointed at the apex; size very large, length 2 to 2\ inches, breadth 1 to 1 1/4 inches; surface deep reddish brown in color, coarsely wrinkled; skin thick, not adhering to the flesh throughout; flesh about \ inch thick, coarse, fibrous, somewhat sticky, and with much rag close to the seed; flavor sweet, but not delicate; seed oblong, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches long, rough, with the ventral channel broad and shallow, and the germ-pore nearer base than apex. Season late.
More extensively exported from Egypt than any other variety. It is not, however, a first-class date. It is large and attractive in appearance, but inferior in flavor. The keeping and shipping qualities are unusually good. Named probably from Amr, a common personal name.
Asharasi. - Form ovate to oblong-ovate, broadest near the base and pointed at the apex; size medium, length 1 1/8 to 1 3/8 inches, breadth 7/8 to 1 1/4 inches; surface hard, rough, straw-colored around the base, translucent brownish amber toward the apex; skin dry, thin, coarsely wrinkled; flesh | inch thick, at basal end of fruit hard, opaque, creamy white in color, toward tip becoming translucent amber, firm; flavor rich, sweet, and nutty; seed oblong-elliptic, pointed at apex, 5/8 to 3/4 inch long, smooth, the ventral channel almost closed, and the germ-pore nearer base than apex. Ripens midseason.
Syn. Ascherasi. The best dry date of Mesopotamia, if not of the world. It can be used as a soft date; having always some translucent flesh at the apical end of the fruit, it has by some writers been classed as semi-dry. Grown principally in the vicinity of Baghdad; now also in the United States, where it succeeds well. The name means Tall-growing.
Deglet Nur. - Form slender oblong to oblong-elliptic, widest near the center and rounded at the apex; size large, length 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 inches, breadth 3/4 to 7/8 inch; surface smooth or slightly wrinkled, maroon in color; skin thin, often separating from the flesh in loose folds ; flesh1/4 inch thick, deep golden-brown in color, soft and melting, conspicuously translucent; flavor delicate, mild, very sweet; seed oblong-elliptic, pointed at both ends, about 1 inch long, with the ventral channel shallow and partly closed, the germ-pore at center. Season late.
Syns. Deglet Noor, Deglet en-Nour. This variety is considered the finest grown in Algeria and Tunisia, where its commercial cultivation is extensive, and it is highly esteemed in California, where it holds at present first rank among dates planted commercially. Its defects are a tendency to ferment if kept for several months, and the immense amount of heat required to mature it properly. The name is properly transliterated Daqlet al-Nur, meaning Date of the Light, an allusion to its translucency.
Fardh. - Form oblong, widest near the middle and rounded at the apex; size small to medium, length about 1 1/4 inches, breadth about 3/4 inch; surface shining, deep dark brown in color, almost smooth; skin rather thin, tender; flesh § to 1/4 inch thick, firm, russet brown; flavor sweet with a rather strong after-taste; seed small, length 5/8 inch. Ripens midseason.
Syn. Fard. This is the great commercial date of Oman, in eastern Arabia. It has recently been planted in California; American markets are thoroughly familiar with the fruit through the large importations which are annually made from Oman. While inferior in quality to many other varieties, Fardh holds its shape well when packed and keeps well. For these reasons it is a valuable commercial variety.