Dates: Important Facts, Health Benefits, and Recipes

Explore the health benefits, history, and culinary uses of dates, a versatile fruit rich in fiber, antioxidants, and minerals, and learn how to store and incorporate them into your diet.

What Is a Date?

  • The date or date palm, is a flowering plant species in the palm family ( Arecaceae ) cultivated for the sweet (delicious) fruit.
  • Date trees typically reach 69 to 75 feet in height
  • The species is cultivated across northern Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia
  • Date fruits are oval-shaped and are 1 to 3 inches long and contain a single pit
  • When ripe, they range in color from bright red to bright yellow to brown in color, depending on variety

Are Dates Good For You?

Yes, dates are good for you! Eaten in moderation, dates can be part of a healthy diet.

5 Health Benefits Of Dates

  1. Dates are a great source of fiber. One date has about 1 gram of fiber. Fiber is good for our digestion Fiber is especially helpful for blood sugar control, especially when a food is high in carbohydrates like dates.
  2. Dates are a source of iron, especially if you are vegetarian or vegan. If you make a meal of lentils, couscous, kale, and dates you’ll get a good amount of iron and the Vitamin C from the kale will help with the absorption of the iron.
  3. Dates have a good amount of antioxidants (mainly from carotenoids and phenolics) found in the fruit.
  4. Dates are a source of 4 minerals : selenium, copper, potassium, and magnesium.
  5. Dates may help induce labor at the late stages of pregnancy. A study found that dates are effective in decreasing the length of labor and reduced the need of oxytocin for labor acceleration. 

History, Background About General Facts for Dates

  • The date palm’s place of origin is unknown because they’ve been cultivated for so many years.
  • Some sources say it probably originated from the Fertile Crescent near Egypt and Mesopotamia while others think they are native to the Persian Gulf or western India
  • Fossil records show that the date palm has existed for at least 50 million years
  • Dates have been a staple food of the Middle East and the Indus Valley for thousands of years, and there is archeological evidence of date cultivation in a Neolithic civilization in western Pakistan around 7000 BCE and in eastern Arabia between 5500 and 5300 BCE
  • Dates have been cultivated since ancient times from Mesopotamia to prehistoric Egypt . The ancient Egyptians used the fruits to make date wine and ate dates at harvest
  • U.S. growers primarily produce two varieties: the deglet noor: the small, drier date often found in baked goods, and the medjool, a fat, maple-colored fruit best known for its taste and texture, especially during the holidays
  • Every medjool date grown in the United States can trace its roots to Morocco some say
  • American growers produce about 33,000 tons of dates per year, according to government figures. American dates come almost exclusively from Bard Valley and from California’s Coachella Valley, a desert south of Palm Springs.
  • More than 6 million tons are produced in Middle Eastern countries.
  • Dates are also processed into cubes, paste, spread, date syrup, or powder (date sugar)
  • Dry or soft dates are eaten as they are, or can be pitted and stuffed with fillings such as almonds , walnuts , pecans, candied orange and lemon peel , tahini , goat cheese, blue cheese, and often wrapped in bacon
  • Partially dried pitted dates are sometimes glazed with syrup or coated in sugar

What Are The Cuisines That Regularly Include Dates?

  • Dates can also be chopped and used in sweet and savory dishes, from tajines (tagines) in Morocco to puddings , and ka'ak (types of Arab cookies)
  • Date nut bread is popular in the United States, especially around holidays
  • Dates are also processed into cubes, paste, spread, date syrup, or powder (date sugar)
  • Date vinegar was a traditional product of the Middle East
  • Chocolate-covered dates and drinks like sparkling date juice are used in some Islamic countries as a non-alcoholic version of champagne , for special occasions and religious times such as Ramadan .
  • When Muslims break fast in the evening meal of Ramadan , it is traditional to eat a date first
  • In Britain , chopped dates are used in dessert recipes like sticky toffee pudding , Christmas pudding , and date and walnut loaf , especially at Christmas.
  • Dates are one of the ingredients of HP Sauce (tomato base, blended with malt vinegar and spirit vinegar, sugars ( molasses , glucose-fructose syrup , sugar ), dates , cornflour, rye flour, salt, spices and tamarind ), a popular British condiment.
  • In Southeast Spain , dates (usually pitted and stuffed with a fried almond) are served wrapped in bacon and pan-fried.
  • In Israel date syrup, is used while cooking chicken and also for sweets and desserts, and as a honey substitute.
  • Dates are one of the ingredients of jallab , a Middle-Eastern fruit syrup.
  • In Pakistan, a viscous, thick syrup made from the ripe fruits is used as a coating for leather bags and pipes to prevent leaking.
  • Date seeds are soaked and ground up for animal feed . Their oil is used in cosmetics and dermatological applications.

What Is The Best Way To Store Dates?

  • Dates are best stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container to help them retain moisture. They can be stored up to 6 months in the refrigerator, but may lose moisture the longer they sit. Large quantities of dates can also be frozen for up to one year.

What Are The Different Types Of Dates?

Three main groups of date exist:

    • soft ( Medjool )
    • semi-dry (Halawi and Deglet Noor)
    • dry (Thoory and jujube red dates, aka Chinese date)

Toxicity and Side Effects Of Dates

Dates are typically considered safe to eat, although they do have carbs/sugar in them. So if you watch your carbs or are diabetic, ask you doctor how many dates you can consume at one time.

What Is The Best Substitute For Dates If I Don't Have Any?

If you don't have dates available or need a substitute for them in a recipe, there are a few alternatives you can consider. However, it's important to note that dates have a unique flavor, texture, and natural sweetness, so finding an exact substitute can be challenging. Nonetheless, here are some options you can try:

  1. Raisins: Raisins can work as a substitute for dates in terms of sweetness and texture. They provide a natural sweetness and a slightly chewy texture. You can use them in a 1:1 ratio in recipes like baked goods, oatmeal, or energy balls. Keep in mind that raisins have a different taste, so they may alter the overall flavor of the dish.

  2. Prunes: Prunes, also known as dried plums, have a similar sweet and sticky consistency to dates. They can be used as a substitute in recipes that call for dates, particularly in baked goods and desserts. Prunes have a slightly different taste, so consider the impact on the final flavor.

  3. Apricots: Dried apricots can provide a natural sweetness and a chewy texture similar to dates. They can be used in recipes that call for dates, such as baked goods, trail mixes, or granola bars. Chop the dried apricots into small pieces or blend them into a paste if needed.

Best Dates Recipes