Dates… what exactly are these dried fruits? They kind of look like a prune. They're something that old people like, right? NO! Okay, well maybe, but they are so much more. Dates are a nutritious, delicious dried fruit that comes from the phoenix dactylifera, or the true date palm. Dates have been around for so long that no one is quite sure where they originated, but it is thought to be somewhere in the deserts of northern Africa or western Asia, and around the Persian Gulf. These delicious, sweet fruits have been cultivated for thousands of year in the desert regions of the Middle East. References date back to as early as 4000 BC, from Mesopotamia to prehistoric Egypt. Egyptians used them to make a sweet wine and ate them fresh at harvest. Dates are now raised around the world, being introduced in North America by the Spanish during the 1700s.
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There are many varieties of dates, the most popular being Medjool. Dates are grouped into three groups “dry”, “semi-dry”, and “soft”. Medjool dates are part of the soft grouping as are Barhee, Halawy, and Khadrawy for example. Medjool dates are very soft and sweet. They also are one of the easiest varieties to grow as they produce a lot of fruits. Dates are actually dioecious, meaning they have separate male and female plants. You can easily grow dates from seeds, but remember, only 50% will be female and fruit bearing and are often weaker than plants grown from cuttings. Dates survive in the desert climate because they are wind pollinated, rather than depending on animals & insects. One male date palm can pollinate over 100 female trees!
Dates offer a variety of nutritional benefits as well. According to a study by Al-Shahib and Marshall, published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, “dates may be considered as an almost ideal food, providing a wide range of essential nutrients and potential health benefits.” They are an excellent source of dietary fiber, protein, and vitamins C, B1, B2, B3, B5, and A1. It also is host to a wide variety of minerals such as potassium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorous. There are also many different kinds of amino acids in the date that makes it easy to digest as well as soluble and insoluble fiber which is key for a healthy digestive system. Looking for a natural source of energy? Try eating some dates instead of that next cup of coffee! Dates have 29 grams of natural sugars and are very filling.
Well, now that you're convinced that dates are amazing…how about some delicious date recipes? Dates, of course, are great on their own, but there are many ways to use them! Here are a few ideas.
Bacon Wrapped Dates with Goat Cheese
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Slice dates in half, keeping the back side together so it forms a hinge. Add a pinch of goat cheese or a stronger flavored cheese like blue cheese. Place it in the center of the date. Close the halves and wrap a half slice of bacon around the fruit. Secure with a toothpick and arrange on a baking dish.
- Bake for 30 minutes or until the bacon is crisp. Rotate the dates halfway through to evenly cook the bacon.
- Let cool for a couple minutes and then eat immediately.
Raw Pie Crust
Take 2-3 cups of your favorite nut or nut blend. (I recommend macadamia nuts & pecans) and ¼ cup finely chopped dates (well-packed) along with a dash of salt and vanilla (to taste). Run through your food processor with the “S” blade. It's best to add the nuts first then slowly add the dates until the crust gets sticky. Then press into a greased 9-in pie pan. Voila! Fill with your favorite pie fillings.
You can also add dates to cookies and breads (I highly recommend adding it to spiced cookies and breads. Delicious!). Sweet or savory, dates can be used in a multitude of dishes or can just be eaten on their own as a sweet and filling snack.
Be sure to purchase organic and look for dates that were grown in the United States. US dates will come from Arizona and California, so if you're in that area, you might be even able to pick some up at your local farmers market! Most vendors have dried dates year round and fresh dates during the late summer months. Enjoy this sweet, guilt free treat whenever you can.