What Are Dates?
Fun fact: dates are a type of stone fruit. Here's everything you need to know.
By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen
Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.
You'll find dates in salads, appetizers, main courses, sauces, desserts - the list goes on. The sticky-sweet fruit is incredibly versatile, and fossils of dates suggest that they're over 50 million years old: one of the first tree crops ever cultivated by humans. This isn’t surprising considering the energy and flavor packed in just one date. And here we are today, with dates in every grocery store and abundant recipes to enjoy them.
What Are Dates?
Dates are a variety of sweet fresh stone fruit that is also eaten dried. Dates are also good source of natural sugar: you'll see granulated date sugar and date syrup available in many supermarkets (for more info on how to use dates as a sweetener, check out this story from Food Network's nutritionist). Once pitted, dates can be used in just about anything. Chopped and added to salads or cookies or cakes, they bring their unique sweetness to all. There are many cultures North Africa and the Middle East where plates of dates and nuts and other dried fruits are always on the table, no matter the what the occasion is. In Mexico, where dates are fecha de la fruta in Spanish, they have been used in moles and other sauces since the Spaniards brought them over in the early 1500s.
What Do Dates Taste Like?
Dates are sweet when they’re fresh off the tree and become even sweeter and chewy as they dry. They have a caramel-honey like flavor that can be compared to raisins, but once you try one, you’ll remember the taste and be able to identify it as a date forever. The different varieties of dates have individual flavor profiles, but all are easy to identify as dates. Texturally, they have a skin which is noticeable when you eat one whole, but not when they are cooked.
Where Do Dates Come From?
Dates are native to North Africa and the Middle East, where they grow on palm trees called (unsurprisingly) date palms. They grow at the tops of the trees in huge clusters, just under the palm fronds that are typically 65 to 85 feet up in the air. Many are hand harvested, which means a human in a safety rig climbs the tree and picks them. Most dates are left on the tree to ripen and dry out, an energy-efficient, solar-powered preservation process that ensures a long shelf life when harvested. Dates have been featured for eons in the cuisines of the areas where they grow naturally.
What Are the Different Kinds of Dates?
There are two types of dates readily available at grocery stores across the U.S., Medjool and Deglet Noor. Medjool dates are the most common and what you’ll find when you buy whole dates, so they’re your go-to in any recipe that calls for dates. They’re plump and juicy, with a flavor that skews towards maple syrup. Deglet Noor are the variety of dates most often found in packages of pitted and chopped dates, and they’re perfect for stirring into recipes like cookies and cakes, chutneys and sauces. They save a lot of pitting time.
How Many Calories Are There In Dates?
Like all nutrition info from the USDA, a portion of dates is 100 grams, which is about 5 to 6 dates. There are about 250 calories in 100 grams of dates, along with 2.4 mg protein, 58 g carbs in the form of glucose and fructose and 4 g dietary fiber.
Recipes Featuring Dates
Carrots and dates bring the sweet, feta brings the salty and lime brings the sparkle in this easy salad.
Toasting the couscous gives it robustness that blends perfectly with the caramelly flavor of the dates.
The bittersweet chocolate is balanced by the sweet dates in these riff on chocolate chip cookies.
Samosas with a vegetarian filling are so worth the effort. The sour tamarind in the sauce is sweetened with dates, native to India.
These no-bake power-balls are sweet and crunchy, perfect for snack time.