How to Use Dates: Everything You Need To Know
Your Guide to Dates
Legend has it that the phoenix would build its nest at the top of a date palm, which grew abundantly throughout Phoenicia. After 500 years, the bird would catch fire from the flames of the sun and would be reborn from its own ashes. Some legends say that the date palm would die and come back to life along with the famous bird.
Origin & History of Dates
The origin of dates traces back to the Middle East, where the tree grows natively in deserts as far as North Africa. Dates are the oldest cultivated fruit in the world. Fossil evidence places dates inconceivably far in the past, at least 50 million years.
Culinary experts estimate that there are more than 3,000 varieties of dates, which throughout history and geography have been considered an affordable source of nutrition, comparable to rice, wheat, and potatoes. Because dates preserve and dry easily, they have an extended shelf life ideal for long periods of travel.
During the late 1800s, colonizers from the southwestern United States noticed that certain regions of the U.S. with arid climates, high heat in certain months, and access to water offered the exact conditions in which dates thrive.
Walter Swingle, an “agricultural explorer,” began bringing deglet noor dates to the United States in 1900. He eventually coerced someone to give him some offshoots from the medjool variety as well.
Today, U.S. American dates grow mostly in the Coachella and Bard Valleys. In Bard Valley, each of the 250,000 trees descends from six trees grown from offshoots of Swingle’s original cache. Every medjool date grown in the United States can trace its roots to a single oasis in Morocco.
Nutrition & Health Benefits of Dates
Dates, despite being very sweet, have an excellent nutrition profile that includes much more than just natural sugars. They are rich in carbohydrates, dietary fibers, proteins, minerals, and vitamin B complex. Three dates provide about 200 calories, no fat, and 18% of recommended daily fiber. This portion also supplies smaller amounts of B vitamins, vitamin K, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and manganese.
Dates have recently arrived on the health food scene. Pharmacological studies show that dates are highly nourishing. In addition to carbs, fiber, and minerals, they contain phytochemicals that may lower cholesterol, help with blood sugar regulation, decrease risk of cancer, and support heart health.
In addition, dates contain antioxidants, including carotenoids, polyphenols, tannins, and sterols. They also possess antifungal and antimicrobial properties. All this goodness may give them a role in combating infectious diseases.
Sounds pretty good, right? Okay, let us give you just one more juicy tidbit of date information. They are good for your brain! Due to protective compounds that combat inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain, the journal for Neural Regeneration Research states that dates have promising therapeutic potential against Alzheimer’s and other brain-related issues.
Best Ways to Use Dates
The sweetness of dates is a great accompaniment to many different savory dishes, including cheese, meat, and vegetable courses. They are great in salads and paired with almonds and oranges for a vegan option. Or you can toss them with goat cheese and bacon for a savory, tangy, non-vegan delight.
Dates also make for a great dessert on their own, or they can function as a sweetener for many types of healthy dessert options. Here are some of our favorites.
Tahini Salted Date Caramels. Just blend pitted dates, tahini paste, a splash of vanilla and coconut oil together and then press the gooey goodness into a pan or shallow dish. Sprinkle the raw date caramels with coarse pink salt and you have a perfect vegan treat.
Goat Cheese-Stuffed Dates. Simple and tantalizing. Slice open your medjool dates and spoon in a small amount of light and fluffy goat cheese. Try some different toppings like crushed pistachios, orange zest, or balsamic reduction.
The most “famous” of all Medjool date recipes? Raw brownies! You’ll never believe the dark chocolatey flavor and chewy texture of this easy, no-bake treat. Simply blend together medjool dates, cocoa powder and walnuts, and the mixture forms a magical concoction that you’ll have to taste to believe.
Some Extra Fun Date Facts
Dates are an important aspect of Ramadan. This is the annual month-long period of spiritual reflection during which time Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, taking neither food nor water. A date is traditionally the first food to pass one’s lips after the sun goes down. To help U.S. Muslims prepare, date growers in Bard Valley ship more than 500,000 pounds of plump, glossy tree candy to U.S. cities with large Muslim populations.
Many people think of dates as dried fruit—but actually, they’re often fresh, particularly the medjool variety. You can tell whether or not dates are dried based on their appearance. A wrinkled skin indicates they are dried, whereas a smooth skin indicates freshness.
The date palm became known as Phoenix, or tree of Phoenicia, and was a symbol of the region featured on Phoenician coins.
Date Producers & StoryBirds From Our Platform
Abu Ayyash Farms is family-run operation located in the deepest valley in the world in the country of Jordan. They strive for unparalleled quality in every date they grow and pick by hand. Their dates, which are picked at the perfect moment of ripeness, have a distinct and unmatched taste. To learn more about the process and dates from AbuAyyash Farms, you can follow their work on their new StoryBird.
Liwa Dates is a date packing and processing company in the United Arab Emirates that focuses on organic dates. They have been supporting local farmers there by offering these services and marketing support since 2006. Follow the journey of their dates by checking their StoryBird.
Taybeh Farms is a farm in Jordan that is dedicated to growing organic foods with regenerative and permaculture techniques. In addition to dates, they grow citrus and other fruits on their family-owned farm in Wadi Rajed overlooking the Jordan Valley. Producing organic crops has always been a priority and lately they are doing even more to regenerate the soil and the earth of their beautiful farm.
Dates are versatile, delicious, and historically significant. They are sweet and loaded with nutrition. What’s not to love?
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Great article! I didn’t know they “dated” all the way back to 50 million years ago. Those raw brownies sound good.
Thanks, Alex! You’ll have to let us know how the brownies turn out for you!