Dates are often nicknamed “black gold” for their minerals, proteins, and vitamins. Date ingredients are gaining popularity as more people try to eat healthily. They use dates as a natural sweetener in smoothies, juices, nutrition bars, and baked products like cakes and muffins. We thought it would be worth our readers’ time to dedicate a particular post to this lusciously soft and wonderfully sweet fruit. So, are you ready to learn some interesting facts about dates?
- What is a Date?
- Why Should I Care About Dates Fruits?
- The Etymology of Dates
- History of Dates
- What Do Dates Taste Like?
- Morphology and Maturation
- Fresh Dates vs. Dried Dates
- The Health Benefits of Date
- How to Use Dates?
- How to Choose Good Quality Dates?
- Where to Buy Dates
- When to Buy Dates
- How to Store Dates
What is a Date?
A date is a stone fruit with a single seed surrounded by sweet fleshy meat (like mangoes, peaches, and olives). Dates develop in clusters on palm trees (picture below). You see those yellow, oval-shaped fruits. Those are date fruits. We discuss stages in the development of a date fruit later in this article. We also learn more about the development and uses of this sweet fruit in this text.
Why Should I Care About Dates Fruits?
You probably find your answer when reading about health benefits and nutrition facts of dates. Or perhaps when you learn about dates’ uses in your daily life. But for now, let’s say dates are incredible sweet fruits. They can be a great healthy substitute for white sugar in recipes due to the nutrients and antioxidants they provide.
The Etymology of Dates
The scientific name Phoenix Dactylifera is Latin. The Phoenix part of the name means “purple land.” It refers to the coastal region between Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean Sea known as Phoenicia. It is believed to be the homeland of “date palms.” The word dactylifera (the plant’s species name) combines two Greek words: daktylos, which means the date, and fero, which means “I bear.” The edible fruit is called a “date” in English, which comes from the Greek word for “finger” (through Old French) because the fruit resembles a finger.
History of Dates
There is a rich and exciting history of date fruits and trees. Studies on fossils show that the date palm has existed for at least 50 million years. It was called the “tree of Phoenicia” for many years, attributing it to the “Phoenicia region” famous for its purple color in ancient times. Later, the name changed to Phoenix and was featured on Phoenician coins as a symbol of the region.
For many generations of Egyptians, dates have been viewed as a symbol of fertility. They grew up almost along rivers and oases in the driest deserts. The palm tree has been described in stone carvings (bas relief), monuments, and coins. The date palm tree was used to inspire the construction of columns in ancient Greek architecture.
Greek mythology relates the date palm to the immortal Phoenix. In Natural History, Pliny the Elder resembles the top of a palm tree to a phoenix bird. He tells a story of how the phoenix bird would rise again on top of a date palm tree. And how after 500 years, the bird would catch fire from the flames of the san and rise from its ashes.
Greek mythology relates the date palm to the immortal Phoenix. In Natural History, Pliny the Elder describes the phoenix bird, which would raise again at the top of a date palm. After 500 years, the bird would catch fire from the sun’s flames and be reborn from its ashes. Some myth has it that the date palm would die and come back to life again with the bird.
Dates are called “fruits of paradise” or “one of the fruits of paradise” by certain religions. For example, the date is mentioned several times in the Quran, the holy book of Muslims. God instructs the Virgin Mary to eat dates while giving birth to Jesus.
What Do Dates Taste Like?
The fascinating thing about dates is how they are pleasing to the palate. Dried dates are sweet with a rich, intensive caramel-like taste when they fully ripen. More specifically, they feel like chocolate, with notes of cinnamon, butterscotch, and toffee.
Phoenix dactylifera (the scientific name for date palm tree) is a flowering plant species in the palm family (Arecaceae). It has grown for its edible, delicious fruit. The date palm tree is largely cultivated in northern Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. It has been naturalized in many tropical and subtropical regions worldwide.
The date palm is a plant of contradiction. In its original homeland, it has to have its head in the sky’s fire. It grows in sandy or saline soils so long as a sufficient underground water supply is accessible. The large leaves can survive a warm, dry climate and adjust the tree to stand on long slopes without rain, but the palm needs a supply of water.
Date palms grow to 90 to100 feet tall, using one trunk or a few trunks sprouting at a cluster. But the plant doesn’t produce woody tissue to sustain itself. Instead, it has logs, around 16 inches in diameter, made of fibrous stems that overlay one another. One leaf may develop 150 leaflets.
Morphology and Maturation
The growth and development of date fruits involve many external and internal alterations. These changes usually include modifications in size, color, and chemical compositions of the fruit, taking place in five different stages:
Begins soon after fertilization of the pistil on the mother plant and continues until the kimri stage. It usually takes four to five weeks to complete and is characterized by slow growth and the loss of two unfertilized carpels. The fruit is very small, and it’s covered by calyx.
Synonyms for this stage are Khimri, Jimri, or the green stage. Kimri is the longest stage in the growth and development of date fruit, lasting nine to fourteen weeks, depending on the variety. The fruit is not yet suitable for eating as it has a hard texture and a green color.
During this stage, the fruit experiences rapid growth in size for 4 to 5 weeks, reaching 90 percent of its final size. It is followed by a second period of 4 to 5 weeks of slow growth in which the size increases by only 22 %.
This phase is characterized by size, weight, reducing sugars, highest acid activity, and high moisture content. At the end of the stage, the fruit is botanically mature and can already germinate.
This stage lasts between three to five weeks, depending on the variety. The fruit’s texture softens during this stage. The color changes from green to greenish-yellow, yellow, pink, red, or scarlet, depending on the species. Weight gain is slow at this stage, but sucrose content increases, and water content goes down. Tannins will lose their astringency while precipitating.
In varieties in which tannin’s precipitation process evolves rapidly, the fruit is already palatable at khalal stage.
At this stage, which is two to four weeks, the apex tip starts ripening, changes in color to brown-black, and becomes fluffy. Rutab stage is characterized by a massive decrease in weight due to moisture loss, in which the water content falls to about 35%. Other significant changes include the inversion of sucrose to invert sugars, browning of the skin, and softening of the tissues.
At this stage, dates can be sold as fresh fruits.
Most commercially grown dates never reach the Tamar stage. This is when the dates are fully ripened, and the color changes from yellow to brown or dark brown. This stage is characterized by water content reduction. The fruit becomes self-preserving, and the water content reduces to around 24 – 25% of the fruit’s weight.
Fresh Dates vs. Dried Dates
Dates are harvested and sold at any of the abovementioned stages, mostly Rutab and Tamar. Dates are technically dried at the Tamar stage, so contrasting fresh vs. dried dates seems ironic. But fresh and dried dates are different in the following aspects:
The moisture content in dates reduces with ripening and drying. When the moisture level decreases, the natural sugar in dates concentrates. It enhances caloric content.
100 grams of dried dates contain about 280 calories.
100 grams of fresh dates contain less than 145 calories.
So, if you are counting calories to drop some weight, you can consume fresh dates. If you are trying to gain some extra weight, dried dates would fare better!
There cannot be a single winner in the calorie battle of dried vs. fresh dates because it varies from person to person.
Fresh dates and dried ones contain almost the same amount of nutrients, which is very high! They contain “iron,” which can keep your blood healthy, potassium for your heart, magnesium which reduces the risk of diabetes, and vitamin A for your bright eyes.
Although they are great to consume, they contain high levels of fruit sugar (fructose), which can cause some problems in long-term use.
So, there is not much of a significant difference between the nutrients of dried dates and fresh dates. Let’s call it a tie.
These are nutrients your body needs the most, including protein, fat, and carbohydrates. The macronutrient content is different between fresh and dried dates. While fat and protein only differ slightly, the carbohydrate content in dried dates is twice the amount of fresh date carbs.
- A (3.5 oz) serving of dried dates contains 2.8 g of protein, 0.6 g of fat, 76 g of carbohydrates, and 5 g of fiber.
- A (3.5 oz) serving of fresh dates contains 1.8 g of protein, 1 g of fat, 37 g of carbohydrates, and 3.5 g of fiber.
These are the nutrients that your body needs in smaller amounts, such as vitamins and minerals. Dried dates are a better source of iron and calcium than fresh dates. On the other hand, fresh dates are a better source of vitamin C.
Vitamin C is not stable and can be destroyed by storage and heat. This is why dried dates contain less vitamin C compared to fresh dates.
Dates are rich in fiber which can reduce constipation and relieves the stomach. Dry dates contain a higher fiber content than fresh dates, so they are more helpful to stomachaches and gut issues.
Dates Nutrition Facts
Dates are loaded with nutrients. They are a good source of energy, fiber, sugar, vitamins, and essential minerals such as calcium, iron, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, and zinc. They also contain essential vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin A, and vitamin K.
Dates have a higher calorie content than most fresh fruits, similar to dried fruits such as raisins and figs. The calorie content in dates comes mostly from fats and, to some extent, from protein.
|Potassium||20% of the referenced daily intake (RDI)|
|Magnesium||14% of the RDI|
|Copper||18% of the RDI|
|Manganese||15% of the RDI|
|Iron||5% of the RDI|
|Vitamin B6||12% of the RDI|
Dates are also high in antioxidants such as polyphenols.
The Health Benefits of Date
- The antioxidants in dates (Flavonoids and Carotenoids) can protect the body against inflammation. They can also promote brain health by boosting the immune system and reducing the risk of inflammation. Some of the brain health-related functions are not yet confirmed in humans. But laboratory experiments on animals have shown positive results.
- Dates may promote natural labor in addition to reducing labor time. Experiments show that eating dates during the last few weeks of pregnancy may promote cervical dilation. It may also lower the need for induced labor.
- Other health benefits of dates include, but are not limited to, bone health and blood sugar control. Dates are rich in minerals, and for this reason, they have the potential to prevent bone-related conditions. Dates have a low glycemic index. They are an excellent source of fiber and antioxidants. So, they have the potential to help with blood sugar regulation.
Dates are an excellent source of fiber, which may improve your digestion system and keep you full for longer. The fiber in dates can improve your digestive health by reducing constipation. The fiber in dates is also beneficial for controlling blood sugar. It slows digestion and can help prevent a high spike in blood sugar levels after eating.
How to Use Dates?
The fact about dates that excites many date lovers is their versatility. The sweet caramel-like flavor of dates goes well with almost everything. Here are a few serving tips to get you started.
- Snacks: You can eat the fresh or dried dates out of hand, much like raisins.
- Stews: Dates can be added to many savory or sweet dishes, such as Moroccan stews or tagine dishes
- Stuffed: You can stuff the pitted dates with fillings such as cheese, nuts, chia seed, chocolate, diced fruits, parmesan, and fresh basil. Yum!
- Salads: You can also chop and add them to your desserts and salads (like fruit salad) to create a range of sweet and savory flavors.
- Natural sweeteners: You can add them to your bakery and cookies as a sugar alternative.
- Smoothies: You can blend them in your smoothies before the gym to hit the scale.
- Energy balls: You can blend them with nuts, cranberries, oats, and coconut flakes to make no-bake energy balls
Syrup: You can make a syrup from them and use it as a food dressing and beverage sweetener. Like this date syrup milkshake:
How to Choose Good Quality Dates?
The following instructions may help you choose good-quality dates at any market.
- Fresh dates can be wrinkled, but they shouldn’t feel hard. Look for fresh or recent dates that look fleshy and slightly glossy.
- Some bloggers or experts might tell you to avoid dates with crystallized sugar or impurities on their skins. They think they are not as fresh as you might like.” This is 100% inaccurate. You can get rid of the white matter fairly easily by folding the dates in a wet towel.
- Watch for larva when eating dates as they tend to attract insects due to concentrated sugar. But it should not worry you much. You can buy date products instead of whole dates. Date ingredients include date syrup, date paste, stuffed date, or pitted. They are disinfected during processing.
- For baking or where you need a large number of dates, the dried dates can be great. They are super easy to chop and throw right into a scone mix or a tagline, but if you want them to be moister, you can soak them in hot boiling water before use. This makes them more ‘squidgy,’ which is excellent if you need them to act as a cover. You can soak them in tea or brandy for a more adult treat.
- If you only need a small number of dates, you can spend a few more dollars to buy notable dates. These are great for topping a cake or a salad. They create a massive contrast in your masterpiece’s look, texture, and taste.
- If you want to make stuffed dates, try dates with non-stick insides, and the pit can be easily separated from the flesh. An excellent example of dates suitable for stuffing is Sayer, an Iran-produced date.
Where to Buy Dates
Good quality dates are available in every supermarket, grocery store, or online website.
When to Buy Dates
Dates harvest between August and March, depending on the region. In the US, dates are harvested from early September through December.
In Iran, Mazafati, for example, harvests in the third week of August. Other cultivars like Piarom harvest from the first to the third week of October. Generally, the season for Iranian dates lasts from mid-August to September.
How to Store Dates
Finally, you can store dates in an airtight container either in the fridge for more than two years or at room temperature for a few months. They have the lowest moisture content of any whole fruit, only between 15 to 27%, meaning they’re naturally dehydrated!
Dates have a long and rich history. They are staples in the middle east. They are healthy and rich in nutrition. We tried to cover as much information about dates as possible in this short space. We didn’t talk about dates cultivation, and we did not include information about dates, trade and production.
If there is any question regarding dates, please feel free to ask in the comment section below. And don’t forget to share this article with your friends.