Delicious, sweet dates are one of the most popular fruits enjoyed since ancient times; along with figs, dates have been part of human literature for centuries.
They are the fruit of the date palm and have been grown for more than 4000 years. While the date’s place of origin is unknown, it’s assumed to have originated in and around Iraq.
FUN FACT: dates were considered the ‘bread of the dessert’, because they provided concentrated food energy that could easily be stored and carried on long journeys.
The date plant has been extensively cultivated resulting in many varieties which have been successfully been in tropical and other dessert regions around the world.
While several cultivars of dates exist (45+), especially in the Middle East and north Africa, the more common varieties in North America are:
- Deglet Noor: semi-soft, slender and a bit chewy
- Medjool: which are very plump and tender; arguably the finest date
Health benefits of dates
- Dried dates do pack a relatively large amount of calories; 100 g, or about 14 dates have 277 calories with decent amounts of vitamin B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), and B6 (pyridoxine), as well as, the minerals potassium, calcium and copper. Dates are also a great source of prebiotics.
- Dates even have small amounts of beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin and lutein.
- Most eat about 2 to 4 dates at at time. Since 1 date as about 20 calories, this only works out to 40 to 80 calories making them a perfect snack
- The prebiotics in dates help to support the growth of healthy gut bacteria; maintaining a healthy gut bacteria population is key to overall health including mental health and mood
- All dates have health-promoting properties beyond their vitamin and mineral content. They contain phytonutrients such as polyphenolic flavonoids, tannins, and chlorogenic acid. Phytonutrients from plant foods have been shown to promote health by turning off disease-promoting genes and turning on disease-fighting genes.
- The phytonutrients in dates can help to reduce the risk for cancer, diabetes, and other age-related chronic diseases
- The fiber in dates help to support normal bowel activity and bowel movements; who doesn’t like a good poop?
- Potassium is the best mineral to help lower and maintain blood pressure and dates have a lot of it – in fact it’s better to increase your intake of potassium than to lower your intake of sodium if you want to reduce your blood pressure using diet.
Cooking and eating dates
Most are common with the dried dates found year round in grocery stores. Some are more succulent like Medjool which make an easy to chew and tasty snack.
Other dates are tougher, more dried out and are referred to as ‘cooking’ dates for things like date squares etc. Fresh dates are easier to find in the US where they can be bought at farmers’ markets, specialty or Middle Eastern markets or grocery stores during dates’ harvest season between September and March.
It’s best to store dates at room temperature in a cool place, inside an air-sealed container where they can stay fresh for several months.
- Dates are naturally sweet and can be enjoyed as is without any additional sugar etc.
- Pitted dates can be stuffed with fillings such as almonds, walnuts, candied orange or ginger or try them stuffed with cream cheese for a silky smooth sweet treat.
- Dates are an excellent addition to salads, muffins, quick breads etc
- Add thinly slice fresh dates on pizza
- Dates can be added to soup, stews and to enrich poultry, venison, lamb meat.
- Dates are excellent additions to breakfast cereal where they can be added and simmered with oatmeal, oat-bran or quinoa porridge
- Slices of dates add an amazing hit of sweetness to meat or savory sandwiches
- Dates can be stewed with fresh, frozen or other dried fruits to make a compote; serve this as a preserve, on top of yogurt, cooked cereals or protein shakes and smoothies for natural sweetness and extra fiber