While folklore has long regarded dates for their ability to remedy everything from a sore throat to a toothache, no studies have yet to confirm these claims. What is known, however, is that dates are nutritious. They provide a good source of fibre and potassium, a mineral that helps maintain healthy blood pressure.
According to Canada's Food Guide, a serving of dried fruit, dates included, is 1/4 cup, about 8 dried dates. One serving provides 169 calories, 0.2 grams of fat, 45 grams of carbohydrate, 4.8 grams of fibre, 0.6 mg of iron and 394 mg of potassium.
Fresh dates are a good source of vitamin C, but most of the vitamin is lost through the drying process. As result, dried dates contain minimal amounts of the vitamin.
Since dried fruit is dehydrated and more concentrated than its fresh counterpart, it delivers more calories and nutrients gram for gram.
Here's the nutrient breakdown for one Food Guide serving of dried dates:
Per 1/4 cup or 60 ml (about 8 dried dates):
Source: Canadian Nutrient File, 2007b
Dates are an oval shaped fruit that measures 2.5 to 5 cm long and 1.5 to 2.5 cm in diameter; they contain a large single seed that runs the length of the fruit.
Before dates ripen they range in colour from bright red to bright yellow. As they ripen, their colour changes to dark brown and they shrivel up, similar to a prune.
It's estimated that date palms have been cultivated for thousands of years, and as a result there are hundreds of different varieties. The most common ones include Barhee, Halawy, Khadrawy, Medjool, Noor and Thoory.
Date varieties can be soft, semi-dry and dry. Depending where dates are cultivated, and the soil they are grown in, they will have a slightly different colour, taste and size.
Dates ripen in four stages: unripe; full size and crunchy; ripe and soft; and ripe and sun-dried. Each stage of the ripening process has a special Arabic name and each is regarded for it's unique culinary properties.
Fresh dates are available from September until May, with their peak season being November. Dried dates are readily available all year round.
When buying fresh dates, choose ones that have a smooth, shiny skin and avoid those that are shriveled or show signs of damage or mould.
Dried dates are usually sold in boxes, whereas chopped, or sugar coated dates are often found in the baking aisle of major grocery stores. Look for dried dates that are wrapped tightly and do not show any signs of damage.
Fresh dates can be stored in an airtight container in the crisper section of a refrigerator for up to one month.
Dried dates, as long as they remain well sealed, will keep for up to one year in a cool, dark place, or in the fridge.
Dried dates also freeze well, making this an easy way to prolong their shelf life (as long as they are sealed tightly).
Whether you eat them on their own, stuff them with nuts, add them to baked goods or cover them with chocolate, the natural sweetness of dates makes them a delicious addition to many dishes.
To pit dried dates simply slice the date length-wise and remove the pit. To prevent the knife from sticking to the fruit, periodically dip the blade of the knife in a glass of warm water.
Healthy ways to enjoy
- Add chopped dates to your favourite whole grain cereal.
- Make a homemade granola with chopped dates, sliced almonds, rolled oats, dried cranberries and flaxseeds. Toast in the oven for 7 minutes at 350°F and then store in a sealed, airtight container.
- Add a handful of dried dates to a spinach salad for a touch of sweetness
- Make a whole grain salad by mixing cooked quinoa with chopped dates, fresh mint, chopped parsley and sliced tomatoes. Toss with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.
Make tasty hors d'oeuvres by stuffing dates with a teaspoon of herbed goat cheese, wrapping in a fresh basil leaf and then wrapping it again in a thin slice of prosciutto - secure with a toothpick and place under the broiler until the cheese bubbles. Serve warm.
- Make a bulgur pilaf with chopped dried dates, dried apricots and toasted walnuts. Season with cinnamon and curry powder.
- Wow your dinner guests by serving a decadent and slightly exotic chocolate fondue for dessert - include fresh or dried dates, mangos, star fruit, papaya and pineapple for dipping.
- Dates high sugar (natural sugars) content make them a healthy alternative to candy and sweets - keep a few handy when you're on the run and need a quick pick-me-up.
- Stuff dates with nuts, such as pistachios or almonds, for a satisfying snack.
- Use chopped dates in place of raisins in your favourite baking recipes.
Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Date_palm
California Date Administrative Committee - http://www.datesaregreat.com/
Did you know?
- Dates are often used during Ramadan to break the fast between sunrise and sundown. The holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, Eid-ul-Fitr, is a three-day celebration in which dates play a prominent role in many of the traditional dishes.
Dates used to be eaten by travelers moving across the desert because they didn't require refrigeration and were a concentrated source of sugar and energy.
- When date palms are mature and at their peak, they can produce up to 260 pounds of dates per harvest season.