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Saudi Arabia’s Hanan Al-Anazi tastes sweet success with Al-Hasawiya date cake mix

AL-AHSA: When Hanan Al-Anazi was 12, she had an insatiable appetite for creative concoctions in the kitchen. Her favorite pastime was opening the family pantry and whipping up delicious treats using whatever was available.

Her desserts combined “modern” recipes with local ingredients, such as Saudi dates. Her mother dreaded these little experiments because she made such a mess and used up all the sugar and baking powder.

Al-Anazi knew, even then, that she wanted to eventually turn this passion into a profession, but like all good dough, it took patience and time.

Last year, the 35-year-old took part in a local date exhibition as a vendor. After working in the date business for years, she decided to take a chance and asked if she could sell a cake mix she had made, but no one would bite.

Date traders who had been in the business for many decades told him to leave the dates alone, which his little cake mix probably wouldn’t succeed. Who would buy it, they asked him.

Not easily discouraged, she decided to cook something anyway. She had taken a few cooking classes over the years and learned to incorporate dates into her sweets. It was his secret ingredient. She thought she would start with a recipe in the style of Hasawi date cake.

Always an innovator, she decided to try giving out free samples. She placed the ingredients in a bag designed for coffee and put a sticker on it and wrote “Date Cake”. She made 50 bags herself. When people stopped by her booth at the date show, she handed out her samples to customers and hoped for the best.

At the end of the five day show many people came back – they had tried to do his mix at home and loved it and asked where they could get more. They were ready to buy it.

She was delighted. Hanan ‘Crocker’ – a tribute to the famous brand’s fictional character Betty Crocker – was born. She applied for the necessary work permit, had a logo designed, created a website and got to work.

Dates have always been decisive.

Born in Riyadh, she moved to Sharqiyah (Eastern Province) when she was six years old. During those formative years, living with fresh Hasawi dates (from Al-Ahsa) ignited his love for the sweet fruit.

Al-Ahsa was named in the 2020 Guinness Book of World Records for having the largest date palm oasis in the world. In 2021, he broke the Guinness World Record for having the largest date farm.

Al-Anazi has tried to take this cultural pride and include it in its products.

Cake mix requires just a few simple ingredients, just like Betty Crocker products. The difference is that Al-Anazi’s version uses dates in every dish. Even her recipe for Cinnamon Rolls uses it in the filling.

“A month after the date of the exhibition, it was obvious that there was a market for my product and I had to be serious. So I decided to start my brand and change the basic packaging – I couldn’t keep using those brown coffee bags forever – and applied for the self-employment certificate and got a permit .

“Before, I used to do everything by hand, but now, thank God, I have machines and four people to help me. If it gets overwhelming, I will hire freelancers to help me out during peak season, which comes in the winter. It all came out of my kitchen in Riyadh again,” Al-Anazi told Arab News.

Al-Anazi is working on perfecting several new products and is excited to introduce them to the market soon.

“I started almost exactly a year ago – I remember, it was the Saudi National Day. It was also, coincidentally, the anniversary of the start of my journey,” she said.

Al-Anazi’s culinary delights are available in select stores across the Kingdom, as well as on his Instagram: @Hanan_Secret222, and can be shipped anywhere in the country.

James R. Rhodes