Piarom dates, a local product of Borneo, has been renowned for its medicinal properties for centuries. They were used by the Incas and other South American native people to treat indigestion, ulcers, and other gastrointestinal disorders. The bark of this tree is dried and converted into a fine powder that can be added to water to make a delicious, sweet, and sour drink. This strong and sour liquid had long been treasured by the Malays, and now the dates are available in stores all over Malaysia.
Piarom trees grow wild in some parts of Malaysia, but it is a relatively new innovation to commercialize the tree. While the berries do not ripen as quickly as the ones from the South Sea, they have more health benefits for us. They contain amino acids that promote healthy skin and hair, and also vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K. They are great for soothing sore throats and for treating allergies. They can be used in a wide variety of recipes from salsas to ice cream, and even candies and cookies!
They are made from the inside out. Because the bark of the tree is dry and hard, it is pressed from the branches to make Piarom dates. It is then ground and prepared as a powder. They will keep for up to six months, after which they should be stored in a cool dark place. They will last for many years, but like any food, once they begin to deteriorate they need to be eaten quickly.
The tree has a special type of fruit that is eaten as an alternative sweetener. Called the “bitter apple” it contains natural tannins that help to counteract the bitterness of coffee. It is widely available at Asian supermarkets and is a very popular choice. This bitter apple fruit has very few calories and a high concentration of healthy minerals. If you add a spoonful to a glass of water or juice, you will notice a big difference in taste immediately.
The trees do not reproduce, so harvesting is not an issue. The trees grow quickly and bear fruits every two years or so. However, if you live in an area where the climate is too extreme, the berries may not be harvested for two years. Some of the varieties of Piarom dates produce a fruit that has a faint caramel color. This is called Tahitian gold in the United States and is very difficult to find outside of the islands.
Today you can grow your own Piarom tree in your own backyard. You can pick the branches and leaves from your own tree and freeze them into a concentrated liquid to use later. There are several Piarom-dating books on the market today to help you learn how to store your dried fruits. They may also be purchased online.