The food that comes from the desert

The desert climate is no impediment to food production in Arab Gulf countries. Despite being major importers, they do produce legumes, vegetables, meats, dairies, milk and lots of dates. The items can be seen at SIAL Middle East.

Isaura Daniel

Abu Dhabi – A stroll down the aisles of SIAL Middle East, in Abu Dhabi, will show you that Arab countries in the Gulf aren’t just importers of food products – they also produce a wide range of them. Even though instead of red earth they have desert sand all over, they grow dates, cow’s and camel’s milk, legume, vegetables, poultry, honey, and processed foods made with local- or foreign-sourced raw materials.

Dates reign supreme in Gulf farming. The arid climate is what date trees need in order to thrive and bear fruit. Hence, the Saudi stands at SIAL Middle East are replete with date brands in posh packaging. The fruit’s also on display in stands from the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman – those are the five exhibiting Gulf countries according to the expo’s website.

At the Saudi pavilion, the easy-smiling Nabil Al-Mramhi gets taken aback when questioned whether he sells his dates to Brazil. The CEO for company Oasis Lina, he replies that while he does export his product, he does so to Australia, France, Germany, England, South Africa, Tunisia, etc. – to a list of close to 15 countries. He wishes to export more product, and after we spoke he said he plans on selling in Brazil.

Oasis Lina highlights the quality of Saudi dates, and it does more than just put the fruit from the date tree on the market. It also sells mamul, a semolina-based Arab treat with dates for filling. Also available are dates topped with white and dark chocolate, caramel, coconut, almonds, honey, date paste and other items. Everything comes in sophisticated, beautiful packaging, as befits the Saudi style.

At another SIAL Middle East stand, not far from Nabil, is Abdullah Al-Halwaji, the assistant general manager for his Kuwait-based family-run business, Al-Wattan Sweets. Tahini – the sesame paste – is the star of the show. Abdullah shows a picture of sesame and explains that it grows well in his country. Tahini gets sold in various forms by Al-Wattan Sweets, from pure to mixed with pistachio or chocolate – in various sizes and packages.

Al-Wattan also makes other items, like sweets and toasts. The wheat to make the toast gets sourced from countries like Russia and Ukraine, Abdullah reveals. The hot desert weather in Kuwait is not well-suited to growing it. The company sells domestically in Kuwait and exports to the UAE. Do they wish to sell to Brazil? Yes. At the expo, Abdullah got quote requests from some countries.

And Bahrain, who would have thought it, sells water. And not just any water. Donning a lilac veil on her head, the Human Resources executive for Aljaser, Hanan Aljaser (pictured above) explains that the items on showcase are bottled water with aniseed, chamomile, roses, mint, cinnamon and myriad other flavors, mostly herbal. Hanan argues that these herb-flavored waters are healthy. They get sold in Oman, Kuwait and the UAE. The cinnamon water tastes strikingly like a drink, although it’s alcohol-free.

And the UAE’s Aldahra, which has arms in several countries, processes and sells several food items. In the UAE, it produces poultry, dairies, legumes and vegetables. Sales development officer Mohammad Qarqash shows off the legume and vegetable stand that’s been set up for SIAL Middle East. There’s peppercorn, eggplant, tomatoes, mint, lettuce, cucumber, etc., all of it fresh and grown in the UAE.

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A glance at Al Ain Farms’ stand in the Abu Dhabi expo will leave one under the impression that all of the products and brands on display come from a lush rural area. And they do. In order to sell camel’s and cow’s milk, chicken meat, juices, yogurts, eggs and other farm products, the company keeps four factories and two farms, with over 2,000 workers between them. Sales manager John Bourke proudly shows off an item which Al Ain Farms sells a lot of: its full cream camel milk powder gets shipped off to countries like Japan, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, United States and Russia. Does it ship to Brazil? A talkative, lively Bourke answers negatively. He wants to, but needs a buyer.

Translated by Gabriel Pomerancblum


Isaura Daniel

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