In addition to its fruits, the buds and sap of the date palm can also be consumed. The date's fibres are used in the making of fabrics, while the stones are used for fuel or as oil meal to feed sheep and camels. Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia are among the major producers of this fruit. The date palm can reach 30m in height and yields over 1,000 dates each year.
The fruits grow in hanging bunches of more than 200 dates, with each bunch weighing close to 20kg. The dates themselves are between 2-5cm long and about 2cm in diameter. The flesh of unripe dates is green, becoming a golden or brownish colour as the fruit matures. The small stone at the date's centre is in fact a corneous albumin.
Dates vary in texture, flavour, and sugar content. The three main types of dates are soft, semi-dry, and dry dates. While there are close to 100 different varieties of this fruit, only a few of them have been widely commercialised. The Arab name Deglet Noor means "date of the light" this variety is one of the most highly prized in the world and represents about 85% of date production.
The following varieties represent the most common dates on the market...
- Deglet Noor: A semi-dry date, originally imported from Algeria, possesses a delicate flavour, and is firm-textured in appearance, with a colour range from light red to amber or straw.
- Halawy: A soft date, thick flesh, caramelly and sweet, is somewhat wrinkled in appearance, with a yellow colour ripening to a light amber and then to a golden brown. Originally this date was imported from Iraq.
- Khadrawy: A soft date originally imported from Iraq, it has many desirable qualities. It cures well; it ripens to amber, then cures to a reddish brown, with a caramel like texture and a sweet flavour.
- Zahidi: A semi-dry date from Iraq, distinguished by its large seed in proportion to the fruit itself. This date lends itself well to processing and softening by steam hydration. This date is known for its high invert sugar level and is widely used to make diced dates and date sugar products. It features a crunchy and fibrous flesh.
- Thoory: Often called "Bread Date". Driest date variety, with firm skin, less sticky; flesh chewiest and is the staple diet of the Nomadic tribes of the desert countries of the world.
- Medjool: This is the "Cadillac" of dates. Originally from Morocco, the Medjool Date was reserved for royal hosts and other dignitaries. Centuries later, in the 1920's, disease threatened the existence of the Medjool Date in Morocco. In a radical move to save the Medjool, the Chariff of Morocco gave the United States, 11 immature palms to replant.
Dates are the fruit of the date palm, which, like all palm trees, grows in warm and humid climates. A native of the Middle East, the date palm has held great significance for Mediterranean peoples since ancient times. Known as the “tree of life,” it is mentioned in the Bible. The word “date” refers to the shape of the fruit and comes from the Greek meaning “finger.”
The high sugar content of dates makes them a very nourishing fruit. Dried dates are very high in potassium: they are also a source of iron, magnesium, copper, pantothenic acid, vitamin B and niacin. They are often treated with sulphites and sometimes coated with syrup to keep them soft, a practice that increases their already high sugar content.
Choose dates that are plump, soft, and well coloured. Avoid dull-looking fruits, or those that appear to be dried out, mouldy, or fermented. Dates are sold with or without their stone.
To prevent dates from drying out further, store them in an airtight container in a dark, cool place: they will keep for 6-12 months, depending on the variety. Fresh dates can be stored in the fridge where they will keep for at least 2 weeks. Dates should be well wrapped to prevent them from absorbing the odour of other foods. It may not be a good idea to freeze dates as they are often frozen during shipping.
Dates can be dehydrated so soak them in water for a few hours.
Dates are good eaten out of hand but they also enter into the preparation of many dishes. They are usually associated with sweet foods such as cakes, cookies, date squares, muffins and cereals. In Arab countries their use is more diversified: for example, they are stuffed, candied, incorporated into salads and couscous, and used to make spirits. In India dates are often used in chutneys and added to curry's.
Because dates are very sweet, the amount of sugar called for in recipes that use them can be significantly reduced or omitted altogether. Dates themselves can be converted into sugar, to be used like another sugar. To make sugar from dates, arrange some sliced pitted dates on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake in a 240