Do you have a sweet tooth yearning to be satisfied? Instead of reaching for a cookie or candy bar, fulfill your craving with a delicious and nutritious date! Try adding dates to baked goods, smoothies, or chopped atop morning porridge. Serve dates stuffed with cheese as a fancy hors d’oeuvre to impress guests at your next elegant soiree. Both fresh and dried dates are packed with minerals, like muscle-fortifying and metabolism-boosting potassium and manganese. Dates, also rich in dietary fiber, keep food moving along the digestive tract to prevent you from feeling bloated or constipated. Whether you try a Deglet Noor or Medjool, your next date will surely be a tasty one.
Dried dates are most commonly found packaged at the grocery store. Their color varies from light to dark brown, black, and even brownish-red. The most popular variety grown and sold in the US is the Deglet Noor date, which is about an inch long with a light brown color when dried. Medjool dates, often imported, are slightly bigger than the Deglet Noor, and darker brown with a hint of red when dried.
Fresh dates are often golden yellow in color and are sold in bulk on the stem.
The drier the fruit, the more concentrated the sweetness. Medjool dates are quite sweet—like sticking your pinky into a sugar pot. Deglet Noor dates have a honeyed taste.
Fresh dates have an astringent flavor and aren’t as sweet. Some compare the taste of sweet golden dates to that of a tart apple.
You’ll find packaged dried dates in most US supermarkets, either whole or chopped.
Fresh dates are widely available in specialty markets, such as Middle Eastern groceries, during peak season.
Dried dates are available all year long. Fresh dates are available late summer through mid-fall. In Europe, the season for some varieties of fresh dates extends into the winter.
Fresh dates should be soft, plump, moist, and shiny. Dried dates should be slightly wrinkled but not shriveled.
Avoid any fruit with a hint of green; this indicates that it was picked too soon and isn’t ripe.
When deciding whether to purchase organic or non-organic produce, it’s helpful to know which fruits and vegetables are most affected by pesticides. Pesticides are toxins used to kill insects, invasive plants, and fungi during the growth of produce, and are potentially dangerous to people. National and international agencies agree that prolonged exposure to specific pesticides through food consumption is a potential health risk. Additionally, some studies indicate that organic fruits and vegetables have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than conventionally raised produce.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue. In this ranking, the 12 most affected fruits and vegetables belong to the “Dirty Dozen” and the 15 least affected are part of the “Clean Fifteen”. These lists help identify the produce that is most—and least—dramatically affected by pesticides.
Dates do not appear on any EWG produce list; however, if pesticide exposure is a concern, consider buying organic. Since dates are rarely peeled (especially dried dates), you are likely ingesting any pesticides used in the growing process. Some growers use more pesticides than others, so organic is your best option to avoid pesticides entirely.
Dried dates should be kept in an airtight package. If left at room temperature, they will be ready to eat for up to two months. They last up to six months if stored in the refrigerator.
Keep fresh dates in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. You can also freeze them in a sealed plastic bag for up to a year, and simply remove a few at a time as needed. Some varieties actually turn sweeter after freezing. Alternatively, you can store fresh dates on the counter for a few days to sweeten them, though the color will change from golden to light brown.
When chopping dried dates, lightly coat your knife with a neutral oil like grapeseed oil to ensure dates do not stick together or to the knife.
Fresh, pitted dates to eat out-of-hand require little preparation except to wash and eat. Some people choose to peel them, while others eat them whole. You’ll need to slice unpitted dates in half to remove the slender seed. Make sure fresh dates are a bit mushy and not too hard, otherwise they may taste bitter.
Alongside sodium and chloride, potassium is an electrolyte essential for conducting electrical reactions in the body. Potassium aids proper muscle function, digestive health, and skeletal contractions.
The majority of the manganese in the body is stored in the bones and organ tissue, mainly the liver and kidneys. Manganese is responsible for production and maintenance of sex hormones, blood-sugar regulation, brain and nerve function, calcium regulation and absorption, and carbohydrate metabolism.
Magnesium is responsible for promoting cardiovascular health, muscle contraction and relaxation, energy production, and proper bone formation. This essential nutrient may also be helpful in regulating healthy blood-sugar levels, decreasing the likelihood of type 2 diabetes.
A mineral that plays a role in producing collagen and keeping the immune system in proper working order, copper is an essential nutrient needed by the body in small amounts. Copper may also fight against free radicals, helping to delay the aging process. Energy production is also one of the many benefits of this important mineral.
These scavenger molecules are found in a variety of “super foods” such as berries, vegetables, and a variety of nuts and seeds. Antioxidants are important for fighting free radicals that may be associated with aging, cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Dates are a rich source of dietary fiber—specifically insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool so it can pass smoothly through the intestines, thus aiding in the digestive process. Getting the proper amount of insoluble fiber prevents uncomfortable constipation or hemorrhoids. High-fiber diets are associated with weight loss, lower cholesterol levels, reduced risk of heart disease, and reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Additionally, the specific combination of minerals in dates works to help the body metabolize carbohydrates, fats, and protein.
- Because of their intense sweetness, dates are often served with hot tea or coffee in lieu of honey or sugar.
- In Israel, the date palm tree is called “the tree of life,” because it provides food, shade, building materials, and medicine.
- Dates originated more than 10,000 years ago in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.