One look and it’s plain to see that dates are like raisins on steroids. And it’s exactly because of this why some people are intimidated by them. Can they be snacked on and used for cooking purposes just like raisins?
Types of Date Fruits
More than 200 varieties of dates exist. While they come in all shapes and sizes and flavors, all of them share practically the same nutrition profile.
Dates can be classified into soft, hard and semi-dry. Some types of dates are simply more popular than the rest, in particular those that are easily available and are a delight to consume.
Three main types of dates are grown:
Soft dates are mostly eaten fresh, are mild in flavor, with lower sugar content. They’re more common in the Middle East, though other world areas import them during Ramadan.
Hard dates are dry and fibrous even when fresh, hence the nicknames of “camel” dates or “bread” dates. Drying intensifies their hard consistency and also their sweetness, and they’ll last for years. Nomads relied on these dates as staples, often grinding them into flour. Today, trekkers pack these firm dates as survival snacks.
Semi-dry dates are what most Westerners enjoy. They’re aromatic, softer and chewier, with a pleasant level of sweetness.
Date Ripeness: Dates are also classified by their degree of ripeness. Using the Arabic names for each stage, from fresh to dried, dates progress along these stages:
- Khalal: full size fresh fruits, but still green and not edible
- Bisr: colors start changing and sugars start developing
- Rutab: softening and darkening
- Tamr: ready for packing
Date Varieties: More than a thousand date varieties exist (Basra alone boasts more than 350 types), but these are the ones most commonly sold in the Western world:
Barhi—Like candy; among the softest and sweetest of all dates, with caramel tones. Some people enjoy them chilled.
Deglet Noor—Semi-dry, nutty, medium sweet; the most widely grown variety in the world. Name means “Date of Light” and the amber color is translucent when held to a light. Supermarkets sell these packaged in the dried fruit aisle.
Halawi—Sweet and sticky (halawi means “sweet” in Arabic); semi-soft, moist, and higher on the sweetness scale than many other dates, with a caramel color and undertone.
Honey dates—Soft, creamy with a rich honey and caramel-like flavor. A buttery, melt-in-your mouth treat (and my personal favorite). A cousin of the deglet noor.
Khadrawi—This type contains less invert sugar, and is better for those with sugar sensitivities
Medjool—Large, soft, and sweet. One of the favorite date varieties, with thick flesh and rich flavor.
Thoory—These “bread” dates are drier, thicker, and chewier. Good to pack for hikes and outdoor snacks.
Zahidi—Semi dry and less intense than some varieties, but still on the sweet side.
Now, let’s compare some of the most well-known dates with one another:
- Camel dates vs. medjool dates. Camel dates are harvested and packed when they’re already fully ripe, which is why they are sold soft and moist and ready to be eaten. High in sugar, camel dates are often used as sweeteners. On the other hand, medjool dates are chewy and boast of a sweet, caramel-like taste.
- Halawi dates vs. deglet noor dates. Amber in color, halawi dates hail from the deserts of Iran. Many love them for the fact that they resemble caramel in texture and flavor, too. Deglet noor dates are different from halawi dates in that they are slightly crunchy as they fall under the semi-dry category of dates.
- Piarom dates vs. mazafati dates. The vast majority of piarom dates are grown in the south of Iran. They are large and have a thin brown-colored skin, and have hints of caramel and toffee. Meanwhile, mazafati dates are dark-colored and soft and sweet, often revered by many for their nutritional content.
- Honey dates vs. sukkary dates. As the name suggests, honey dates have a rich honey flavor. Classified as semi-dry, they are soft and creamy and feature a beautiful ruby color. Sukkary dates, whose name literally means the “sweet one”, in contrast, are yellowish and acorn-shaped and slightly crunchy and extremely sweet.
- Barhi dates vs. khadrawi dates. Considered the sweetest of its variety, bahri dates have hints of butterscotch, persimmons and honey when fully ripe. On the other hand, khadrawi dates have a milder flavor as they have much less sugar. Oval in shape and with paper-like skin, khadrawi dates are high in moisture.
- Zahidi dates vs. thoory dates. While some of the rarest, zahidi dates are some of the best to ship and keep as they have long shelf lives. Semi-dry, they pack a rich nutty flavor that kind of tastes like peanut butter. Thoory dates, meanwhile, are dry and firm, although they are nut-like in taste just like zahidi dates.
- Rabbi dates vs. sayer dates. Grown in Iran and Pakistan, rabbi dates are very sweet, elongated and reddish in color. And since they are semi-dry, they have a very long shelf life. The same is true with sayer dates that taste like luscious caramel candies — they are semi-dry and can stay in good condition for a long time.
Fresh Dates vs. Dried Dates
Because of their high moisture content, fresh dates are generally softer, higher in vitamin C and have less impact on blood sugar. However, they have a shorter shelf life — 8 to 10 months, if stored properly. Dried dates, meanwhile, are higher in sugar and calories. But when stored properly, they can keep for up to 5 long years.
What Does Pitted Dates Mean?
Dates are stone fruits, which means that each one of them has a single seed, or also referred to as a pit or stone. Pitted dates, simply put, are dates with the pits removed. Most dates available on the market are pitted. The pits of unpitted dates can be easily removed by making a lengthwise cut into the fruit using a small paring knife.
The Sweetest Dates
At the top of the list of the sweetest dates are sukkary dates. Widely grown in Saudi Arabia, they are also known as “royal dates” for their top-notch quality and honey-like sweetness. Other dates known to be the sweetest of the kind include honey, medjool, barhi and camel dates. And this is why many of them are often used as sweeteners, too.
Best Dates for Cooking
Deglet noor dates are some of the most popular dates for cooking. That’s because they are readily available and can be chopped and diced without ending up mushy. Many recipes that call for the use of dates also require medjool dates not only due to their availability but also because of their caramel-like sweetness and succulent texture.
Best Dates for Baking
Some of the best dates for baking are those that do not contain as much moisture as others, which allows them to maintain their integrity when mixed with ingredients and cooked in the oven.
Many professional and home bakers alike prefer using deglet noor dates because they have an unmistakable date sweetness and are accessible and less expensive, too.
Substitute for Dates in Baking
There are many ingredients that can be used as substitutes for dates in baking recipes that call for their use. Leading the list are raisins and prunes, which have more or less the same texture as dates.
Other options include dried apricots, peaches and figs and various berries, too. Raisin paste, maple syrup and cane sugar may also be used as substitutes.
Calories in Dates
A piece of pitted date weighing 8 grams has 23 calories. Despite having around 5 grams of sugar per piece, dates have a low glycemic index (GI) because of their fiber content, which means that they won’t cause blood sugar spikes.
Each piece of dates also contains 0.2 grams of protein and 53 milligrams of potassium. It has zero fat and cholesterol.
Because of their concentrated natural sugar content, dates are a source of instant energy. But dates are also nutritious and rich in potassium, a mineral particularly important for active athletes to balance the body’s fluids.
In fact, while bananas surpass dates in vitamins C and A, dates have about twice as much potassium, three times as much iron, twice as much protein, and six times as much calcium as bananas. One pitted date has about 66 calories and virtually no fat.
Things to Make With Dates
Dates are some of the most versatile fruits. While they can be eaten as they are fresh or dried, dates can be added to a host of sweet and savory dishes.
For instance, they can be used for baking or added to stews, salads and stuffing. Health-conscious people often add dates to homemade trail mixes, energy bars and smoothies.
How Many Dates are in a Cup?
A cup of dates in a recipe usually contains anywhere from 10 to 13 whole dates. The number of whole dates that can be fitted in a cup depends on the size of the dates. A cup of whole dates can weigh 8.40 ounces or 283 grams.
In a recipe, it’s important to check whether what’s required is 1 cup of whole dates or 1 cup of chopped dates.
What to Do With Dry Dates
Dry dates can be eaten as they are. However, they can be hard to chew on and even digest. That is why dry dates are often soaked in water prior to being consumed or used as cooking ingredients. Chopped dry dates can be sprinkled on a hot bowl of soup or oatmeal. They can also be added to salads and smoothies.
How to Cut Dry Dates
Before cutting dry dates, the pit has to be removed from each piece if using unpitted dates. This can be done by making a lengthwise cut with the use of a small paring knife. Once pitted, dry dates can be sliced with a sharp knife.
Some people prefer to cut dry dates with a pair of scissors. A food processor may also be used to chop them up into small pieces.
How to Store Dates
Dates can be stored at room temperature, where they can last anywhere from 1 to 3 months. However, their shelf life can vary depending on the amount of moisture they have. As a general rule of thumb, the softer and moister the variety, the shorter the shelf life. Soft dates can last at room temperature for around a month only.
How to Keep Dates Fresh
To keep dates fresh, they should be stored in an airtight container once their original packaging has been opened. The airtight container should then be placed away from light and heat. No matter if soft, semi-dry or dry, dates can last longer in the refrigerator. Dates may also be stored in the freezer, where they can last for as long as up to 5 years.
Do Dates Need to be Refrigerated?
In order to extend their shelf life, dates should be refrigerated. This is especially true for soft ones whose shelf life at room temperature is just around 1 month if stored properly. In the refrigerator, dates can last for 6 to 12 months. Both dry and semi-dry dates may not be refrigerated provided that they are stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
How to Store Dates for a Long Time
Dates may be stored in the freezer to keep them in good condition for a very long time. As mentioned earlier, frozen dates can last for up to 5 years — they can handle freezing very well due to their high sugar content. However, dates may start to lose some quality after 1 year. Some people agree that freezing dates makes them softer and creamier.
How to Know If Dates are Bad
If the mild, sweet scent of dates is replaced with a rancid or alcoholic odor, chances are that they’re already bad. Bad dates are darker in color and have an acidic taste. Some get slimy, too. The presence of white grains on dates is caused by the high sugar content of the fruits rising to the surface, not a sign that they should be disposed of.
How to Prepare Dates for Eating
Dates can be eaten as they are as healthy snacks. If too dry and hard, dates may be soaked in water for a few hours — soaking them in hot water can soften them faster.
Pitted dates may be chopped into smaller pieces before they are tossed into salads or in the blender. Chopped up dates may also be sprinkled on soup, oatmeal, yogurt and others.
How to Cook Dates
Dates are versatile cooking ingredients. The way they have to be cooked will depend on the recipe. Dates can be sauteed in a small skillet over medium-low heat with 1/4 inch of olive oil. Dates should be turned over a few times until they have warmed through. Before serving sauteed dates, some flaky sea salt may be sprinkled on them.
How to Peel Dates
Dates require no peeling before eating. This is true whether they are dry or otherwise. But if the recipe requires dates to be peeled, soft ones can be easily peeled with hands. Dry and hard dates, on the other hand, should be soaked in hot water first for about 10 minutes until they are soft and thus easier to peel.
How to Boil Dates
Boiling dates is the first step to making date syrup or date tea. To make date syrup thicker or to make date tea more potent, less water should be used. In many instances, such as when softening dates, the fruits need not be boiled — pouring boiling water over them and letting them soak in it for several minutes is enough to make them soft.
How to Chop and Grind Dates
Before chopping dates, the pits must be removed first unless they are the pitted varieties. Besides a paring knife, a serrated knife may also be used, especially when chopping dry or semi-dry dates.
In order to avoid dates sticking to the knife, the knife may be dipped in flour periodically. A pair of scissors may be used instead of a knife.
How to Keep Chopped Dates From Sticking Together
The secret to keeping chopped dates from sticking together is the same secret to keeping dates from sticking to the knife or scissors: dipping the cutting tool of choice in flour.
The blade or blades may also be rinsed in warm water regularly in order to remove the sticky juice. Dates are less likely to stick together if they are allowed to dry or frozen first.
How to Chop Dates in a Food Processor
Pitted dates may also be chopped using a food processor. Sprinkling the bowl and blades of the food processor with a little oatmeal flour or cornstarch may be done before adding the dates to avoid a sticky mess.
After chopping dates in the food processor, transfer them to a colander and shake vigorously to remove excess oatmeal flour or cornstarch.
How to Grind Dates
It’s customary in some parts of the world to grind hard, dry dates into flour. In order to make date flour at home, dry dates should be pitted and chopped roughly into small pieces.
They should then be arranged on a plate and allowed to dry in the sun for 2 to 3 days. Pulverize them in the food processor and store date flour in an airtight container.
How to Grind Dates Without a Food Processor
Without a food processor, it’s still possible to grind sun-dried dates into powder. One method is using a blender. Another method is using a mortar and pestle.
Dried bits of dates may also be placed in a ziploc bag and then smashed with a rolling pin repeatedly. Afterward, the rolling pin should be rolled back and forth over dates.
How to Soften Dates
Dates can be softened in as fast as 10 minutes by allowing them to soak in hot water and draining them afterward. Steaming them with a steamer or placing them in a colander placed over a boiling pot of water will do the trick, too.
Hard dates may also be microwaved for about a minute — microwaving them in 10-second intervals is recommended.
Top 3 Dried Dates on Amazon
First time to consider shopping for dates or not happy with the ones available at the grocery store near you? Online, you have plenty of choices. The following are some of the best-sellers on the web:
Terrasoul Superfoods Medjool Dates
Most people who consume dates are health-conscious, and certified organic and non-GMO dates such as Terrasoul Superfoods Medjool Dates are some of the most ideal for them. Costing less than $17 per 32-ounce pack, it contains dried dates that are plump and moist, thus making them ideal either for snacking or cooking purposes.
365 Whole Foods Market Pitted Dates
Many of those who opt for 365 Whole Foods Market Pitted Dates are happy that the dates, despite being dried, are soft and moist instead of hard and dry like others. Certified kosher and non-GMO, the product is naturally sweet and has good amounts of potassium. It’s one of the cheapest online, too, costing less than $4 (8 ounces).
Joolies Ugglies Organic Medjool Dates
One of the nicest things about Joolies Ugglies Organic Medjool Dates is that it comes in a 4.4-pound box, which makes it a wonderful gift for family and friends who care for their health. It’s also great for those who care for the planet since the product, which costs a little over $26, is organic and packed in boxes out of recycled paperboard.
Just Before You Have a Date With Dates
Dates come in all shapes and sizes. They can be consumed in many ways, too — as snacks, healthy additions to homemade trail mixes, energy bars and smoothies, and cooking and baking ingredients that add loads of sweetness.
Above, we discussed so many different things about dates.
And now that you are more acquainted with dates, there’s no need to steer clear of them at the local grocery store or on the internet despite the fact that they’re not the prettiest. Dates are some of the healthiest snacks, most shelf-stable pantry items and versatile cooking ingredients you can get your hands on.