Native to the Middle East, dates are as old as civilization and have been cultivated for more than 4,000 years.
Dates crown the tops of towering palm trees that can grow 100 feet high and yield 1,000 dates each year. They grow in heavy clusters of oblong brown fruits, and provide as many as 200 in a cluster that weighs up to 25 pounds. The date palm tree, along with offering dates, is used to make thread, baskets, lumber, mattresses, rope, and other household items. The word “date” alludes to its shape and comes from the Greek daktulos, meaning finger. While much of the world’s date crop is grown in the Middle East, the United States also supplies a large amount from California and Arizona, where date orchards—called gardens in the industry—were introduced in the early 1900s.
Dates are among the sweetest of fruits, with up to 70 percent of their weight coming from sugar. Because of their sugar content, dates are higher in calories than most fruit. One Medjool date contains about 66 calories. By comparison, Deglet Noor dates are less sweet, and contain about 20 calories each.
Dates are also unusual because, unlike most other fruit, they contain hardly any vitamin C. Still, they are low in fat and rich in potassium and fiber. Dates also supply some iron.
Types of Dates
There are three main categories of dates: soft, semisoft, and dry. Here are some varieties you may find in stores or at farmers’ markets.
How to choose the best dates
Dates store well, and are sold in fresh and dried form. It isn’t always easy to tell the difference between the two, since fresh dates may appear somewhat wrinkled, and both types are usually packaged in cellophane or plastic containers. The dates that are commonly available in stores are fresh or partially dried, and do not contain any preservatives.
Both fresh and dried dates should be smooth-skinned, glossy, and plump. They should not be broken, cracked, dry, or shriveled, although they may be slightly wrinkled. Avoid those that smell sour or have crystallized sugar on their surface. Dried dates should not be rock hard.
Dates sold as pitted may occasionally contain a pit and the labels on their packages often carry warnings about this possibility. Check each date before you eat it.
How to store dates
Dried dates keep extremely well since they are often pasteurized to inhibit mold growth.
9 Recipe Ideas for Dates
Dates add sweet flavor to many savory dishes, and pair well with pork or duck. They also add chewy richness to many baked goods. Here, nine delicious serving suggestions.
Published September 17, 2015