The “Seven Species of Israel” are identified in the description of Israel in Deuteronomy 8:8, “a land of wheat, barley, grapevines, figs, and pomegranates; a land of oil olives and date honey.” These fruits and grains were the staple foods of biblical times, and still maintain a presence across modern Israel’s landscape. It has become a tradition to include tastes of the seven species on Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish holiday celebrating the New Year of the Trees. Tu B’Shevat begins on the evening of Tuesday, Jan. 30.
- The most grown fruit in the world.
- A symbol of peace, plenty and the good life, grapevines are a source of pure water when cut open and make excellent building material for shelters. (No doubt our ancient ancestors used the vines to build their sukkot!)
- It was so important in the ancient world—before and during biblical times—that it was used as the basis of measurement and a common denominator for bartering.
- After the Roman conquest, wheat became the primary grain of Israel and barley was reduced to being the poor man’s food and animal fodder.
- One of the oldest cultivated fruits.
- Most of the honey consumed in ancient Israel was fruit honey extracted from dates and grapes. “The land flowing with milk and honey” refers to date honey.
- Two types are used for baking: hard (spring) and soft (winter). Hard wheat is high in gluten and mostly used by commercial bakers. Unbleached all-purpose flour, which the everyday consumer uses, is a mixture of hard and soft wheat.
- The rabbis considered flour so important that they said, “Where there is no flour, there is no Torah. Where there is no Torah, there is no flour” (Pirkei Avot 3:21).
- In Israel, it’s against the law to cut down a living olive tree.
- Black and green olives are harvested from the same tree. Olives start as a green drupe and ripen to purple or black. They may be eaten ripe or cured (pickled).
- Symbolize hope, fertility and eternity, and have legendary longevity—pomegranate trees over 200 years old have born fruit.
- Not actually a fruit—rather, a tough, leathery skin that covers a mass of small and shiny red, pink or clear fruit.
- There are over 800 species of figs in many sizes and colors, including brown, purple, green, yellow and black.
- Symbols of prosperity, security and fertility, figs are a natural confection and often dried for preservation.