Innovation is the top flavour at Omani dates festival

Muscat, Oct 28 – The Sixth Omani Dates Festival, being held in Muscat, has brought together not only farm owners and their produce, but also young entrepreneurs. While Khalas tops the list, date varieties such as Fard are making their presence felt at the festival held in Al Khuwair Ministries District, organised by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, due to its low sugar content. Pickled dates are also making an entry. “They are mistaken for olives, but they are actually green dates while they are still raw,” said Anisa al Ghabshi, from The Research Centre, who is conducting studies on all Omani crops.
“We come up with different ideas for entrepreneurs. The jam is one such example we introduced last year and the woman who took up the project ran out of stock due to high demand.” According to her, the jam is made the natural way. “The idea is to increase the profit for farmers,” said Al Ghabshi. Mohammed al Ouassi, Head of Quality Control from Date Palm Department, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, said the festival has seen a tremendous response from nationals and expatriates.
“There are variety of date products such as date syrup with ingredients, date vinegar, jam, etc. The youth have become enterprising and have started businesses. They are also interested in date production,” he said.
Farmers are impressed with the new trend. Abdullah al Abri worked in an international oil company for seven years and decided to venture into date products.
“I use dates and coconuts in addition to sesame and other ingredients,” said Al Abri as he explained the smart packaging and food colour used to create themes such as the Omani flag.
Talal al Raisi from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries said in the last five years he has seen SMEs developing homemade products into brands. Now they have shops with branches at many places.
“The concept of marketing, branding and packaging has grown. People are competing to attract customers through pricing, quality and variety. It is not just about trading dates anymore,” pointed out Al Raisi.
Suleiman al Amri has some rare varieties such as Naagal and Zabed in addition to the popular ones. “The Nagaal is dried on the tree itself, while the Zabed is dried under the sun. Zabed is rare because there are only few such trees in Oman,” said Al Amri. While there is brisk business for dates in their natural form, the industry has grown, having created a taste among the consumers with products such as the date vinegar.
The date vinegar is used as a salad dressing as well as for cooking with chicken and meat, said one of the consumers. Ali al Rashdi from Izki, who has mastered the art of creating a variety of dates-based products for the last 15 years, is introducing a new date sauce. “The date sauce has black pepper, garlic and other spices. Date syrup can be used for barbecue, to marinate, with cheese and so on,” he explained.
Abdullah al Abri sells his products usually in Bahla, where he has two showrooms and a factory for dates. He emphasises on packaging.
The dates festival has given him an opportunity to meet customers from all over Oman. “We have a variety of date sweets and all you have to do is dip them in Tahinna and enjoy,” urged Al Abri while pointing at the Tahinna fountain. The festival will conclude on October 31.

Lakshmi Kothaneth