Everything you need to know about the delicious Middle Eastern fruit…dates! From the different varieties to storage tips to nutritional information.
Dates are a bit of mystery fruit. I first encountered them on a trip to Morocco where they were served with most meals. Almost like you would get a basket of bread at a restaurant in the U.S. But after a bout of food poisoning that knocked me out of the game for a week (unrelated to said dates), I blocked all memories of Moroccan food from my brain, dates included.
But as I got deeper into the world of cooking, especially healthy cooking, I realized I needed to come to terms with my disdain for dates. Because they’re actually…pretty great.
So what are dates anyways?
Great questions! A date is a stone fruit, meaning it has a single seed surrounded by an outer fleshy fruit (like peaches, mangoes, and olives). They’re grown on date palm trees, so where you would usually envision coconuts, picture big bunches of hundreds of dates!
And they go way back. Like 50 million years back, according to fossils. Us humans quickly learned of their magic back in Mesopotamia, and the date has remained popular in that region (Iraq, Middle East, Northern Africa) ever since. Egypt is the largest producer of dates today, followed by just about every other Middle Eastern country.
But of course, an ever-globalizing world means just about everyone can get their hands on some tasty dates nowadays. I’ve found them in the bulk foods section, with the produce, and bagged or boxed with other shelf-stable foods in many groceries. Choose dates that are shiny, unbroken, and not too hard. Don’t worry if they’re wrinkly, that’s normal!
Oh…and dates are not just dried figs. Dates vs figs debate here!
How are dates grown?
Dates grow up in palm trees, sort of like coconuts do except they grow in bunches. It takes about 7 years for planted trees to start producing their first dates, and once they do workers have to climb these trees 12 or more times a year to care for the crop. So, when you see the price of dates at the grocery, understand why they can be a bit pricey.
Variations of Dates
There are about a million and one varieties of dates grown around the world, but in the U.S. you’ll mostly find the plump and tender Medjool Dates. There’s also the slender Deglet Noor Date, supposedly the “Queen of Dates”.
How to Store Dates
Store dates in an airtight container either in the fridge (up to a year) or at room temperature (a few months).
How can they stay good for this long? Dates have the lowest moisture content of any whole fruit, only 30%, meaning they’re naturally dehydrated! As they age, the sugars in the date will gradually move to the surface, forming little sugar white spots. Fret not, these are not mold.
Do dates go bad?
Every fruit eventually will go bad, but dates take much longer to spoil.
Best Date Recipes
Here are a few of our favorite date recipes! We love using them as a natural sweetener, as well as a sticky glue to hold together pie crusts and no bake cookies.
- Date Pie Crust
- No Bake Chocolate Fudge
- Roasted Dates Stuffed with Goat Cheese
- Salted Date Caramel
- Cranberry Bliss Bites
- Chewy Date Cookies
- Homemade Larabars
Health Benefits of Dates
Dates are a nutritious and healthy food with numerous health benefits. They are a good source of fiber, potassium, iron, and antioxidants. Eating dates can help improve digestive health, lower cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation, and support healthy brain function. They also have a low glycemic index, which makes them a good choice for people with diabetes. The following nutrition information is for 4 Medjool dates.
Dates are not a low calorie food, with most of their calories coming from natural sugars.
Dates are high in carbohydrates, similarly to most fruits.
4 Medjool dates contain about 27% of your daily need for fiber.
As with most fruits, dates are low in protein.
As with most fruits, dates are naturally fat-free..
20% Daily Value of Potassium
Fortunately for our blood vessels, dates are a rich source of potassium. Potassium helps our bodies regulate blood pressure and ensure our muscles and nerves function properly.
14% Daily Value of Magnesium
Magnesium is essential in maintaining healthy blood pressure as well as helping muscles contract and relax. Dates contain almost a fifth of your daily intake in one cup.
Are dates keto friendly?
No, dates are not keto. Dates are loaded with carbohydrates, with 75 grams in just 4 dates.