The Sahara Date Company: Importing Date Culture from Saudi Arabia

New Vienna company imports Saudi Arabian dates.

Photo by Evan Milberg

“I didn’t know what they were,” says Maile Ramzi, on the first time she saw dates. Growing up in Maryland, she wasn’t familiar with the ancient fruit and was surprised when her now-husband brought them with him to their tennis date. “They didn’t look that appealing to me. Then he explained to me that there were 300 different types of dates.” With one bite, Ramzi  joined what she refers to as “date culture”: A commitment to healthy eating that centers on the daily consumption of dates. “Once you’ve tasted them, they become something you just have to have,” Ramzi says.

Three months ago, dates officially became Ramzi’s life. Previously a lobbyist on K Street, she moved to Saudi Arabia with her Egyptian husband in 2007 and started eating dates daily. When Ramzi moved back to the area in 2012, she remembers asking her husband, “How am I going to keep myself supplied with dates?” She decided to open The Sahara Date Company, importing dates from Saudi Arabia. I can’t say I missed the hot weather,” says Ramzi. “But I definitely missed the dates,” which she says are are a sign of hospitality in the country and play an important part in the culture: Date shops are as ubiquitous as Starbucks, says Ramzi, and new mothers often receive gift of dates.  

The Sahara Date Company sells eight types of dates. After tasting six—my first time eating dates—my favorites are sukkary, ajwa and safawi. Ramzi says the sukkary is the most popular date in Saudi Arabia and is rich in fiber; I found it sweet and chewy. The ajwa is the most expensive and the rarest of the Saudi dates. It tasted nutty with a creamy aftertaste. Safawi can be used as a chocolate substitute for desserts: Ramzi once fooled her husband into thinking a safawi date cake was made from chocolate.

Ultimately, Ramzi’s goal is encourage date-eating in this country, especially children in Fairfax County. “That’s real food and it kind of connects you to the natural world,” Ramzi says.  “This is how food is supposed to be eaten.  Not opening a box, not fried. My dream is to see it in vending machines in Fairfax County public schools.  I mean, it would be so easy, because they have a two-year shelf life. All these little things that have been processed out of our diet. Surprisingly, they’re just little powerhouses of nutrition.  They’re totally cool.” / The Sahara Date Company, 8456 Tyco Road, Vienna. 

*This post has been updated