The Erfoud Date Festival takes place in early October for 3 days (dependant on the harvest) and makes for the perfect pitstop on a Morocco Private Tour. Erfoud is a small oasis town in the Moroccan Sahara desert, about 6 hours to the east of Ouarzazate. It is a quiet little town with red buildings surrounded by beautiful scenery and date palms stretching from Er Rachidia to the North, and Rissani to the south to form the largest expanse of palm groves in Morocco.
Each October, after the dates are harvested, the town comes alive for the celebrations of the annual Date Festival. Erfoud is at the centre of the date producing area with almost a million date palms. The festivities are accompanied by traditional music, dance and processions and it is a chance for tourists to sample the local festival food, especially dates, and enjoy the fun of the three day celebrations which include a fashion parade through the streets and the crowning of the ‘ Date Queen’. There is also an exciting dromedary race.
There are official tents for companies and cooperatives to promote their dates or date related products, with an official Governmental opening held on the first day. There are a hundred different varieties of Moroccan dates with 45 alone in the South of Morocco.
There are various hotels in Erfoud where visitors can stay during the date festival . It is essential to book well in advance. These include the Kasbah hotel, Chez Tonton, Auberge Derkoua Chez Michel and the Belere hotel, amongst others.
Dates have played an important part in Moroccan cuisine for thousands of years. Archaeological evidence suggests the cultivation of dates all the way back in 6,000 BC in Arabia. The date palm was a major source of life for thousands of people throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa and is said to have provided people with thousands of different uses including the palm and fronds to make thread, mattresses, lumber, rope making, and many other household and dietary uses.
Dates are part of the first breaking of the fast, Iftar, along with milk and a bowl of harira soup. Dates are also very important in Islam with the date palm regarded as the “tree of life” as mentioned in the Story of Genesis They are also important for the local and national economy. Around 90,000 tons of dates are exported from Morocco annually, so the festival allows the people give a harvest thanks giving and pray for a good crop next year.
The largest and perhaps the best-known variety of the Moroccan dates is the Medjool date. Often referred to as “the king of dates” it was once reserved only for Moroccan royalty and their guests. They were, and still are, considered a precious confection and are typically the most expensive of the date varieties because their cultivation is more labor intensive. The date has a soft wrinkled flesh that gives way to a firm meaty center. When ripe, the date turns a dark brown color and with hints of wild honey, caramel, and cinnamon it is no wonder this date is considered a gourmet dessert.
In the 1920’s date palms in Morocco were threatened with extinction by a disease, to save their dates Morocco sent eleven date palms to the USA. Nine of the eleven palms survived and are responsible for the millions of Medjool dates that can be found throughout California and in parts of Arizona.
The Deglet Noor date, originally from Algeria, are the dates commonly used in Moroccan stuffed date recipes. Primarily an export crop, these dates are semi-dry with a firm texture and a sweet and delicate flavor.
The Halawi Date is a soft wrinkled date with a meaty flesh and a sweet caramel flavor. While not as large or as favored as the Medjool Date the Halawi Date is still considered a delicacy and because of its soft sweet flesh and high sugar content it is often served as a dessert at Moroccan meals. Other date varieties include Boufeggous, Bouskri and Jihel.