Date fruit informations
What is a date fruit?
Date fruit are known throughout the world for their luxurious flavor, their soft and chewy texture, and their culinary versatility. Also known as dates, they are the fruit of the date palm tree. There are over 100 types of dates grown and harvested around the glove, varying in size from about one inch to about three inches and ranging in color from deep amber to dark brown. The pit inside is non-edible and easily removed or eaten around, though some stores do sell pitted dates. All date fruit look a bit wrinkly and shriveled on the outside, but the reward for getting past the lackluster appearance is a rich, sweet flavor unlike any other fruit on earth. Of the many varieties of date fruit, the highly flavorful and dense madjool is perhaps the most common.
Where is date fruit from and how is it grown?
The date palm needs long stretches of warm air to bear fruit. It is a common crop in the Middle East, especially in Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. In North America, date palms grow in southern California, Arizona, and southern Florida, as well as in several cities on the west coast of Mexico. Date palm trees are plentiful in these geographic regions, though the trees need great care and attention to provide a measurable crop. It takes a newly-planted date palm anywhere between four and eight years before it will bear any date fruit, and the trees usually produce a high amount of dates for only up to ten years.
Is date fruit good for me?
There are many health benefits of eating dates, not the least of which is that it is a whole, unprocessed, natural food. When you eat a date fruit, you are eating a delicious energy source as nature intended it: without added sugar, chemicals, or strange filler ingredients. Depending on the variety, a single date has between 20 and 70 calories, much of which comes from its naturally occurring sugars. It offers a respectable amount of potassium, as well as dietary fiber. Because of their sweetness and chewy texture, people who are watching their weight will often snack on dates instead of candy, as dates provide the same sweet taste and gummy texture as chewy candy but have more nutritional value and fewer calories. Plus, the fiber in dates helps to provide a better feeling of satiety, meaning that it does not take as many dates as it would gummi bears to suppress a sugar craving.
How do I eat date fruit?
The rich, almost chocolatey flavor of dates is enjoyable all on its own and without embellishment. In fact, date fruit is often a favorite of children; even the pickiest of young eaters have been known to enjoy a plate of cut up dates. But of course, dates taste great in combination with other flavors. A little cream cheese dabbed inside a pitted date is wonderful. An almond stuck where the pit was is also great, though if you’re feeling decadent, put both the cream cheese and an almond inside. When diced, dates are a fantastic addition to salads, granola, trail mix, carrot slaw — pretty much any recipe you might put raisins in is a perfect place to add or substitute dates. For more specific recipe ideas, read through to the next section.
How can date fruit be incorporated into recipes?
There are so many ways that dates can be used in all kinds of recipes. Sweet foods like cakes use dates as a way to achieve that sugary flavor we all expect in a dessert without using plain white sugar, whereas dates cooked in savory dishes like stews offer an unexpected but welcome sweet contrast to the heavier meat and vegetable flavors. The possibilities for using dates in recipes are almost limitless.
Chopped dates can be added to quick breads, cakes, and even cookies for flavor and texture. Imagine how fabulous your next batch of oatmeal raisin cookies will taste if you add dates instead of raisins! Or, dates can be cooked down into a simple paste with water, and then used as the base for date cake or sticky toffee pudding. For the best milkshake you’ve ever had, blend date paste with milk and vanilla ice cream. And, if you don’t feel like making the date paste first and don’t mind a few small chunks, finely chopped dates will work in a milkshake too. (Whole dates tossed in a blender will likely gum up the blades, so it’s definitely best to chop them before using them in this way.) And kids looking for a change from the old standby of peanut butter and jelly might like a sandwich made of peanut butter, sliced bananas, and chopped dates. On toast, that same combination makes a breakfast that will keep you full and satisfied until lunch time.
Date fruit shine in savory dishes as well. For a quick flavor explosion of an appetizer, stuff pitted dates with one almond each, then wrap each date and almond in a strip of bacon, and bake them in the oven or fry them in a skillet until the bacon is cooked through. The sweetness of the date combined with the earthy nuttiness of the almond and the smoky richness of the bacon is sublime and totally addicting. This is a snack worthy of your most respected company, but it tastes so good that you may find yourself preparing it for you and no one else.
Moroccan tagines and other Middle Eastern dishes are other places where date fruit shines. Lamb, chicken, vegetarian — dates will work well with all of them. Stewed or braised chicken dishes also benefit from a few chopped dates tossed in toward the end of the cooking time to add texture, richness, and sweetness to the final dish. Even ordinary roasted vegetables are better with a few chopped dates mixed in; add the dates after the veggies are out of the oven, and the heat from the pan will warm and soften them. Roasted cauliflower with dates is an especially good combination.
The final word on date fruit
If you’ve never tried dates, possibly because you were put off by their appearance, now is definitely the time to take the plunge and give them a shot. They have a flavor and texture that is unmatched by any other tree’s fruit. Date fruit has been prized by many cultures for thousands of years; history suggests that the ancient Egyptians even used dates to make wine. Whether you plan to eat them plain out of hand or add them to your favorite recipes, date fruit is sure to quickly become a favorite snack in your home.