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Dates are the fruit of the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) and have been in cultivation for at least 8,000 years. Most dates are grown in Asia Minor and North Africa with an annual production of 2,000,000 metric tons. In the United States dates are grown in Arizona and California. Dates contain 70% carbohydrate but little protein (2%) or fat (2.5%). They have long been an important source of nourishment for nomadic tribes of the Arab world. Dates are usually eaten fresh but can be made into paste. Dates are sometimes mixed with a variety of milk products which increases the protein content.

Coconuts are the fruit of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera). About 30 billion coconuts are produced each year, mostly in the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Mexico. Although coconuts are an important food for some Pacific maritime societies and are sold in markets throughout the world, most of the annual harvest is used for the production of coconut oil, which will be discussed later.

Sago or sago starch is an important source of carbohydrate for many people of the tropics, from Thailand to New Guinea. Sago is derived from the pith (central portion of the trunk) of the sago palm (Metroxylon sagu), which grows in freshwater swamps that are otherwise useless for cultivated crops. Sago is readily extracted from the trunks and has the added advantage that it can be stored virtually pest-free. The one disadvantage is that sago has little protein. Sago is also extracted from several other species in the genera Arenga and Caryota.

The sap of a variety of palms, including Borassus and Caryota, is fermented to produce palm wine, also called palm toddy. When fermented palm sap is distilled, the liquor known as arrack is produced.

In Southeast Asia, the betel nut, which in fact is the seed of the betel palm (Areca catechu), is commonly used for its mildly narcotic effect. The betel nut is chewed with a leaf of a local pepper plant and this in combination with a bit of lime makes the mouth and saliva red. With constant use, the teeth of betel addicts turn black. It has been estimated that a tenth of the world population chews betel nuts.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Overdamped to PeatPalms - Distribution, Structure, Food, Oil, Fiber, Ornamentals - Economic uses