Dates are often overlooked, but are a very versatile fruit. Dates are 1 to 2-inch oval-shaped fruit with a seed in the middle. Dates are considered a fruit and come from the date palm. The word “date” means “finger” in Greek and refers to the oblong shape of the fruit. Dates come in many different varieties, each with its own textures, tastes, and colors.
Dates vary in moisture content and are grouped accordingly into three types – Fresh dates, Semi-dried Dates, and Dried Dates. Fresh dates have a sweet, caramel flavor. Semi-dried dates have firmer, crunchy, fibrous flesh. Dried dates contain very little moisture when ripe. They have not been dehydrated.
Medjool dates and Deglet Noor dates are two varieties of dates that constitute the largest varieties found in the United States. The most commonly found dates are called Medjool dates. Medjool dates have a soft exterior, chewy texture, and caramel flavor. They are likely the type of date your recipe calls for if it specifies. Medjool dates are known as “the fruit of kings.” You will probably find this variety in a market if you shop for pre-pitted dates. They are smaller with firmer flesh and a delicate, honey-like taste.
Beyond the whole fruit itself, dates come in other forms. For example, chopped dates have a light oat flour coating to keep them from sticking together.
There are also products made from dates. Date molasses or syrup tastes like molasses but with a less bitter edge. Use it as a liquid sweetener.
Date vinegar, fermented from dates, is dark and fruity and an excellent substitute for balsamic vinegar. Date sugar, date powder, and date crystals are dehydrated ground dates. Use them in baking to replace white or brown sugar.
Date paste is a smooth puree of pitted dates. It can replace butter, sugar, or eggs, depending on how it is used.
When purchasing dates, look for plump, glossy, and soft fruit. Dates have a slightly wrinkled appearance, but they should not be broken, hard, cracked, or shriveled. Watch for signs of mold and crystals on the skin; if you see any, discard the dates.
Storage and preparation
Fresh dates should be refrigerated in a plastic bag and can keep for two weeks.
Dried dates are not thoroughly dried. They are sold slightly moist. Dried dates are pasteurized to inhibit mold growth and should be stored in a cool, dry place in an air-tight container for optimum results. They should stay moist for about 6 to 8 months but eventually dry out. Frozen or refrigerated dates will last up to a year.
For recipes, expect 1 pound of unpitted dates to yield approximately 2½ cups of pitted and chopped dates. If pitted, 8 ounces of chopped dates are about 1¼ cups.
If you have a clump of dates, you need to separate, microwave them for a few seconds at a time with medium power, checking to see if they become pliable. Do not microwave longer than a total of sixty seconds combined.
If the dates have pits, slice them lengthwise to remove the stone. Using scissors to snip the dates works better than a knife to chop them. To prevent sticking, dip the blades into warm water, lightly coat the blades with non-stick cooking spray, or regularly flour the blades. Dates are very sticky. If you want to chop them using a food processor, you can add a bit of oatmeal in the bowl, process it into a powder, add the dates, and process them until they are chopped. To remove the oatmeal flour from the dates, pour the mixture into a colander and shake out the oatmeal flour. To chop in a food processor, add a bit of oatmeal to the bowl, process into a powder; then, add the dates and process until chopped. If desired, pour the dates into a colander and shake away excess oatmeal flour.
Dates are very sweet and have high natural sugar content, but they also provide fiber and nutrients and have about 66 calories each. Dates also contain essential minerals such as iron, magnesium, and potassium
Dates can be enjoyed in many different ways. Dates can be stuffed with goat cheese, cream cheese, or peanut butter. The stuffing options are endless. Stuffed or unstuffed dates are delicious wrapped in bacon or prosciutto. Add pitted dates to your morning smoothie or shake. Just one or two will sweeten things up! Chop or slice pitted dates and put them in cold or hot cereal, yogurt, pancakes, salads, roasted vegetables, rice, sandwiches, stew, or as a garnish on pasta. Date sauces can be served with any meat. Dates can also be baked into bars, cakes, cookies, muffins, bread, and scones. Dates also work wonders in no-bake desserts. Sprinkle chopped dates over ice cream or frozen yogurt.
Dates can be added to your snack or mealtime in many ways. They can be eaten stuffed, chopped, or eaten alone. Dates are such a versatile fruit, and once you start to cook with them, you will not want to stop. No matter how you prefer your dates, there are many recipes to inspire plenty of tasty eating.
Written by Vicki Hayman, MS, University of Wyoming Extension Nutrition and Food Safety Educator
- U.S. Department Of Agriculture