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Food

Guide to Dates: How to Use This Sticky-Sweet Dried Fruit

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: May 19, 2020 • 2 min read

Learn all about the date fruit, a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine.

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What Are Dates?

Dates are small, oval-shaped fruits that are generally sold dried. The word “date” comes from the Greek daktulos, which means “finger.” There are thousands of varieties of dates, including large Medjool dates from Morocco; honey-flavored Deglet Noor dates from Algeria; Iraqi Barhi dates (which are commonly eaten fresh); and the less-sweet Dayri dates from Iraq.

Where Do Dates Come From?

Dates come from the desert palm (Phoenix dactylifera aka date palm), which originally grew in oases in Northern Africa and the Middle East and has been cultivated for more than 5,000 years. In the United States, date palm trees are grown in the deserts of Southern California and Arizona. Dates ripen from green to yellow to golden-brown and are typically left on the palm tree to dry, which prolongs their shelf life.

What Do Dates Taste Like?

The flavor of a date depends on its level of ripeness. Crunchy, slightly under-ripe dates are known as khalal in Arabic, and they have a delicate, sweet flavor. Moist, ripe dates have a mild honey-like flavor and are known as rutab. Dried, chewy dates are called tamar, and they have often notes of caramel, toffee, and butterscotch.

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Where to Buy Dates

Farmer's markets sometimes carry fresh dates in the late summer and fall, and dried dates are widely available in health food grocery stores and Middle Eastern markets, as well as from online retailers. Deglet Noor dates are the most commonly available type of date in U.S. grocery stores. They’re typically dried, then rehydrated with steam and pitted.

Due to their high sugar content, dried dates are also sold as sweeteners like date paste, date sugar, and date syrup.

How to Prepare and Eat Dates

The natural sweetness of dates makes them a popular choice for baked goods and desserts such as maamoul, a Middle Eastern date-filled cookie. Date-and-nut breads are delicious, and peeled and pitted dates rolled in coconut flakes are a popular snack. You can sweeten smoothies with dates, or make milkshakes with dates and ice cream or frozen banana. You can also use the fruit of the date palm to make savory dishes like Moroccan tagines.

If you buy fresh dates, eat them right away—just be careful not to bite into the pits. Dried dates are non-perishable, and you can store them in an airtight container at room temperature for about six months. Dates will last longer when refrigerated or frozen but can become dry in texture over time.

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