Field of kurrat near Alexandria, Egypt. March 2002.
Flowers of kurrat grown at American University of Beirut. July 2002.
Most of the plants mentioned as foods in the Bible are still widely used. These include olives, grapes, pomegranates, figs, barley, and wheat as well as lesser known foods such as hyssop (Origanum syriacum), carob (Ceratonia siliqua), and sycomore fig (Ficus sycomorus). These foods, as well as numerous herbs, were grown in the land of Israel. Particular to the wilderness experience were five vegetables well known today, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic (Numbers 11:5). Anyone who has spent time in the Middle East is aware how much all of these are relished-even essential-except for leeks. The vegetable known as leeks is generally regarded to be A. porrum L. However, this vegetable is seldom grown in the Middle East. It is available in larger cities but is purchased chiefly by foreigners and thus does not have the continued legacy of use of other crops. On the other hand, a crop grown only in Egypt, known in Arabic as kurrat (Allium kurrat Schweinfurth ex Krause), is a well known albeit minor crop in the Delta region of Egypt.
The differences between A. porrum and A. kurrat include the larger size of A. porrum and its longer stem with a pronounced bulbous base (Jones and Mann 1963). Allium porrum is grown mainly for its white stems while A. kurrat grown for its leaves. Leeks and kurrat are closely related tetraploids (2n=32) with highly fertile hybrids (Kardy and Kamel, 1959). Both A. porrum and A. kurrat are considered to be closely related to the widespread Mediterranean species, A. ampeloprasum L. and are variously treated as varieties of that taxon or as separate taxa (see synonymy in Mathew, 1996).
Remains of kurrat have been found at archeological sites (Tackholm and Drar, 1954) indicating selection for this leafy type of leek from ancient times. However, this species or cultivar of leek was not formally named until 1926 when K. Krause of the Dahlem Botanical Garden in Berlin found an Allium flowering which had been grown from seeds collected by George Schweinfurth, who had spent many years botanizing in Egypt and Sudan.
Modern use of kurrat is in green salads and as a component of tameeah, the traditional fried cakes of broadbeans (Vicia faba L.). The leaves are not as stringy as those of A. porrum (which traditionally are not eaten) but have a strong flavor.
I visited the kurrat growing region of the Delta, near Alexandria, Egypt in March 2002 in the company of Professor Zidan E. Abdel-Al of Alexandria University. Little data are available for kurrat . It is planted in February at 10kg/acre (approximately 400 seeds/gram) which gives 4 million plants per acre. Fields are regularly irrigated. After about a month the first cutting, by sickle, is made with several cuttings every 10-15 days. Most farmers fertilize with 20 m3 compost, 50 kg ammonium sulphate, 200 g superphosphate, 25 kg of ammonium sulphate after each cutting. No recent statistics on production are available. Local strains are used and there is no crop improvement.
I purchased seeds and planted them at the American University of Beirut. After three months, plants were ready for harvest.
Kadry, A. and S. Kamel. 1959. Morphological studies in Allium kurrat Schweinf., A. porrum L. and their hybrid. Svenska Botaniska Tidskrift 53(2): 187-199.
Mathew, B. 1996. A Review of Allium Sect. Allium. Kew: Royal Botanic Gardens.
Jones, H. and L. Mann. 1963. Onions and their allies. New York: Interscience Publishers.
Täckhom, V. and M. Drar. 1954. Flora of Egypt. Vol. III. Allium in ancient Egypt. P. 93-106. Cairo: Cairo University Press.
Cut and uncut kurrat
Plants showing bases
Close up of seeds
Umbel. Plant grown at American University of Beirut