Latin name: Phoenix dactylifera
Other names: date palm, khajur
Uses: fruit, fresh, dried
Technically a berry, dates are so central to sustenance in some arid regions that they are often referred to as the “bread of the desert.” Dates can be consumed throughout their aging process. When fully ripe, the fruit is firm, sweet, crunchy and juicy; as it ripens further, the sweetness intensifies and the date becomes succulent in texture. Dates are usually plucked at this stage and left to dry in the sun. Their skin shrivels and the date develops a candy-like chew.
Why is date healthy?
Dates are bursting with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They make an ideal natural, unrefined sugar substitute, and contain several antioxidants that have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes.
What does date taste like?
Different varieties have different flavor profiles, but they’re all sweet! Dates taste like jammier raisins, somewhere between a prune and a fig, with hints of cinnamon.
Where does date grow?
Date palms thrive in arid areas where other trees can’t survive. The fruit was cultivated throughout the Ancient world – in Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley Civilization and the Greek and Roman empires. It likely originated somewhere between Egypt and Western India. An important crop in the Middle East and North Africa, dates are also grown commercially in Spain and the USA. Medjool, which is native to Morocco, is considered the best of many cultivars.
How do I prepare date and what do I pair it with?
Remove the long pit by slicing lengthwise and extracting. Finely chopped dates make great additions or toppings for desserts. Used across dishes in the Middle East and Mediterranean, dates are added to salads, couscous dishes, curries, and of course signature desserts like ma’amoul, baklava, and batheeth. Across cuisines, dates find their way in to savory preparations such as marinades, braises and slaws — they’re an essential ingredient in the UK’s brown sauces (like H.P.) — and are a great paring with aged cheeses. In India, dates are a staple component of the sticky sweet chutney that accompanies most street food dishes. Date sugar is considered a more nutrient-rich alternative to refined cane sugar, and can be used in all manner of baked goods. Even date seeds are useful; in some rural areas, locals roast and grind them to make a coffee alternative. Non-alcoholic sparkling date juice drinks are popular in Islamic countries — where dates are considered sacred and often eaten when breaking a fast.
Date syrup and date wine are mentioned in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History from 77 C.E. While that may seem like a long time ago, date palms have existed for at least 55 million years.