Continuing with our monthly ingredient series, for June we’re talking all about dates! We’re paying homage to the rich history and flavor of this ancient, special fruit. Their exceptional versatility and intrigue makes them an excellent choice to experiment with for healthy recipes. And of course they’re a bulk bin staple so readily available to buy with a reusable bag or container.
Dates have the honor of being the oldest cultivated fruit in the world. Records show dates being cultivated in the Middle East for 6,000 years. Fossil records indicate date palms living in the environment 50 million years ago.
You may have even seen the date palm here in South Florida. It’s grown throughout the area and has a very distinct appearance. Though grown easily, the conditions in Florida prevent the actual fruit from maturing enough to eat. The fruit may form but will drop before it becomes edible. Date palms are desert palms originating from the Middle East and prefer cooler climates with less humidity. They were brought to California by the Spanish in the 1800s where today 95% of the U.S. grown dates are produced. Specifically, they’re grown in the Coachella Valley. You can spot them in the Coachella Music Festival flyers.
Mostly you’ve seen dried dates. Personally we can’t say where fresh are sold, nor have we tried them. So for this article and all the recipes on the way, we’re talking about dried dates. There are hundreds of varieties of dates and about a dozen that you can purchase here in the US. We will be featuring the Medjool date that we sell in the shop. This date is often referred to as the “diamond of dates.” They are large and a dark brown-amber color. Though all dates have their purposes and reasons to shine, the Medjool is the diamond for good reason. Its prized for its perfectly chewy texture and its sticky sweetness. The Medjool date can easily be a snack on its own. They have a caramel flavor and a honey sweetness. Once reserved for Moroccan royalty and their guests, it’s considered a symbol of regality.
You may have also noticed that dates are expensive. Growing dates is very labor intensive and requires a lot of time and attention. Each tree is hand pollinated, a job usually reserved for wind. The fruits don’t ripen at the same time so they have to be meticulously checked and individually hand-picked at different times. Farmers also often need to cover ripening fruit to protect from insects or birds. All this contributes to the somewhat painful price tag of dried dates.
Not only are dates delicious and attractive, they also have a bounty of nutritional benefits. Much like their prune cousins, they’re an exceptional source of fiber and can help get things moving better than most fruits. Just eating a few a day can have noticeable effects. They also contain high amounts of potassium, copper, manganese and are a great source of antioxidants. Dates have a low glycemic index which means they don’t cause blood sugar to spike the way processed sugar does, making them an ideal sweet treat.
With their natural, caramel sweetness and health benefits, dates make an ideal ingredient to experiment with and we’re excited to share all the ways to use them. From baked goods and nut milks, to vegan desserts and energy bars, we have some great recipes coming in the next few weeks that we think you’ll enjoy!