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Dates

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Dates are among the sweetest of fruits: Up to 70% of their weight may be sugar. In the dry, desertlike regions of North Africa and the Middle East, where dates have been cultivated for more than 4,000 years, they provide an important source of carbohydrates. Crowning the tops of towering palm trees, dates grow in heavy clusters of oblong brown fruits--as many as 200 in a cluster that weighs up to 25 pounds. About three-fourths of the world's date crop is grown in the Middle East, but much of the U.S. supply comes from California and Arizona, where date orchards--called gardens in the industry--were introduced in the early 1900s.

Unlike most fruits, dates contain almost no vitamin C. However, they are high in dietary fiber and have some potassium and iron.

Varieties

Dates are classified into three categories--soft, semisoft, and dry--according to the softness of the fruit. Dry varieties are not the same as "dried" dates (which have been deliberately dehydrated); "dry" dates are fresh dates that simply contain relatively little moisture when ripe.

The date variety most often available--it accounts for 95% of U.S. production--is Deglet Noor, a semisoft date with firm flesh. Two other popular semisoft varieties are Zahidi and Medjool; Barhi is a very soft date. You're more likely to find the dry varieties in health-food stores.

Availability

Dates are harvested in late fall and early winter, but because they store well, they are available throughout the year.

Shopping

Dates are sold in both fresh and dried form (pitted and unpitted). It isn't always easy to tell the difference between the two, since fresh dates may appear somewhat wrinkled, and dried dates are not significantly more wrinkled. And both types are usually packaged in cellophane or plastic containers. The dates commonly available in stores are fresh or partially dried, and do not contain any preservatives.

Both fresh and dried dates should be smooth skinned, glossy, and plump; they should not be broken, cracked, dry, or shriveled (although they may be slightly wrinkled). Avoid those that smell sour or have crystallized sugar on their surface. Dried dates should not be rock hard.

Storage

Deglet Noor and other semisoft varieties store best in the refrigerator, where they will keep for up to eight months if placed in airtight plastic bags or containers. Dates so refrigerated will be protected from the odors of other foods, which they can readily absorb. Even at room temperature, they can be held for a month or more.

Dried dates keep extremely well, since they are often pasteurized to inhibit mold growth. They can stay for up to a year in the refrigerator, or five years in the freezer.

Preparation

Dates sold pitted may occasionally contain a pit; the labels on their packages often carry warnings as to this possibility.

To prepare unpitted dates for eating or cooking, slit each date open and push out the pit. To chop dates, either snip them with kitchen scissors or cut them with a knife. In either case, dip the blades into water frequently to keep them from sticking (or spray the scissors with nonstick spray). For easier slicing, separate dates and place them in the freezer for an hour to firm them.

If dried dates seem excessively dry, you can plump them by soaking them in hot water or juice for about 15 minutes.

Dates make delicious additions to stuffings, pilafs, quick breads, and muffins. Remember, they are intensely sweet, so a little goes a long way.

Nutrition Chart

Dates/6 pitted

137
Total fat (g)
0.2
Saturated fat (g)
0.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0
Dietary fiber (g)
3.7
1
Carbohydrate (g)
37
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
2


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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