Dates are one of the first fruits grown and enjoyed by man. Records show Egyptians cultivating this fruit along the Nile in the 5th century B.C. Dates thrive in a desert climate, although they have been incorporated into traditional dishes throughout Asia and Europe.
Harvested within the United States between September and March, dates are the fruit of date palm trees. Some dates are harvested as they ripen and then dried before packaging. Others are allowed to “cure” or dry on the tree before being sold as fresh dates in grocery store produce departments or farmers markets.
A wide variety of dates are grown throughout the Middle East and can be ordered by mail, but within the United States the most commonly seen varieties are Deglet Noor dates and Medjool dates.
From the classic Chinese New Year’s Cake to Sticky Toffee Pudding, the dense sweetness and carmelly flavor of dates is used to add richness to many traditional winter dishes.
Dates can be purchased whole or chopped, dried or fresh, pitted or unpitted. Whole dates can be stuffed with whole or chopped nuts for an energy-packed, sweet treat. Dates are often used as a replacement for candy or other sweet treats by those who are watching their weight.
When shopping for dates in the grocery store, look for fresh dates in the produce department and dried dates with other dried fruits, such as raisins and prunes. Dates should be plump with evenly wrinkled skin.
They should look slightly glossy and feel soft to the touch. The skins should not appear broken, dry, or papery. Do not select dates that have crystallized sugar on their skin or a bad smell.
If your dates become dried out, rehydrate them by soaking. Place the dates in your favorite liquid, such as fruit juice, water, or liqueur, and allow them to soak until they have plumped.
Store dates in an airtight container.
Dried dates will keep well in the refrigerator for about one year and in the pantry for about one month. Fresh dates can be refrigerated for up to eight months.
To combat the stickiness of dates when preparing them for recipes, chill dates before chopping or slicing. Dates that are cold are easier to handle than dates that are at room temperature.
Do not store dates alongside of items with a strong smell such as onions or fish. Dates pick up and retain the odors of what is around them.
Dates are equally delicious in sweet and savory dishes. Try adding chopped dates to tajines, pilafs, cakes, puddings, breads, and bars.
Add dates to your smoothie for a boost of sweetness and energy.
To make date paste - a delicious and nutritious natural sweetener - simply dice pitted dates and add them to a tsp of water in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for about 30 seconds and then mash your dates by hand into a paste or transfer them into a food processor and process them into a paste. Date paste can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.
Dates are packed with soluble and insoluble fiber to keep you full throughout the day, help your bowels function properly, and lower your cholesterol. They are also full of essential vitamins and minerals such as potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin K, and B vitamins.
Dates are low in fat, sodium, and cholesterol as well, making them a great addition to almost any diet. The natural sugars and protein found in dates make them a great snack to boost your energy during the mid-afternoon slump.