By Hana Medina
RUMORS AND DATES practically go hand
in hand. But I’m here to clear up tales about the
fruit (and not your ex) that even I fell for: ( 1)
Despite their appearance, fresh Medjool dates
are not dried. ( 2) Prunes and dates are not
related. ( 3) Dates grow on palm trees—and I
thought palms produced only coconuts! Turns
out, there’s a lot to learn about these fiber-packed fruits hailing from the Middle East.
Definitely not a prune
While historians trace the start of date
cultivation to between 6000 and 4000 B.C., it
wasn’t until the early 1900s that dates were
brought to California’s Coachella Valley.
There are hundreds of varieties of dates, but
the two common commercially grown varieties are the Deglet Noor and the Medjool.
This article focuses on the Medjool, one
of the largest dates on the market. Its naturally
dry and wrinkled exterior, soft and somewhat
moist interior, and sweet flavor profile have
launched the Medjool onto high-end restaurant menus (prosciutto-wrapped dates with
goat cheese, anyone?).
Dates naturally contain less than 30 percent water, compared to 75 to 95 percent for
about a desert-
most other fresh fruits, according to the
California Date Administrative Committee
(CDAC). This accounts for the date’s exterior,
which led to the dried-fruit myth. Now, some
dates are sold dehydrated, but unless the
package specifies “dried,” they’re fresh.
Dates grow in arid desert climates with
plentiful groundwater. Date stalks grow in
bunches from the top centers of the palm.
“If you took a seed from a date and
planted it, any variety of date could grow from
it,” says DJ Ryan, sales and operations manager at SunDate, a Costco supplier. “It
wouldn’t necessarily be a Medjool date.”
Ryan explains that the only way to regrow
the same variety is by replanting shoots from
the base of the “mother tree.” Growers wait up
to two years before replanting the shoots,
which are genetic duplicates of the tree from
which they originated.
Medjools are harvested in late summer
and early fall, and are picked, brushed clean,
graded (which removes any bad dates, and
sorts the dates by size) and packed. Ryan says
no chemicals, preservatives or heat are applied
to SunDate’s Medjools after picking.
Dates last longer than many other types of
fresh fruit. Ryan says it’s best to store Medjools
in the freezer at 5 to 10 F for up to a year,
although he admits they can last longer.
“The condition the date is in when you put
it in the freezer is the exact condition it is when
it comes out. Dates are so high in sugar that
they don’t actually freeze,” notes Ryan, who
adds you can eat them straight from the freezer.
Dates can be stored in the fridge for up to
six months, or in a dry pantry for two months.
When dates go bad, sugar crystallizes on the
outside, which Ryan says is more cosmetic
than anything; they are still safe to consume,
but they can also harden and dry out.
CDAC reports that dates have more
potassium than a banana, and they are also
considered a superfood (meaning they’re
high in antioxidants, which are often touted
for disease-fighting properties). Dates are free
of saturated fats and trans fats, as well as
sodium and cholesterol, and are certified by
the American Heart Association as being a
heart-healthy food. They are naturally high in
sugar and carbohydrates, so check with your
doctor if you watch your sugar intake. They
also contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, and are high in fiber.
Medjool dates can be enjoyed as a snack,
but be sure to remove the pit: Simply take a
knife to the side of the date and pry out the
elongated oval pit at the center.
Dates are often used as a natural sweetener in breads and desserts, but chefs are
finding savory uses for them in salads and
appetizers. You’ll find dates in many raw and
Paleo diet dishes, and I even like to use them
in a homemade energy bar recipe; throw
them in a food processor with equal parts
nuts and other dried fruit, press the mixture
into a dish and keep in the fridge to harden.
However you decide to incorporate this
healthy ancient staple into your modern diet,
this is one date you won’t be sorry you tried. C
The Costco Connection
Fresh Medjool dates can be found in the produce section of your local Costco warehouse,
and Costcos around the world.
From page 53 of In The Kitchen
The Costco Way, 2008
1½ teaspoons olive oil
4 red seedless grapes
Freshly ground black pepper
4 Medjool dates, pitted
2 ounces goat cheese
2 ounces salted pistachios,
roasted and chopped
Pour olive oil onto a plate.
Add grapes and roll to coat.
Grind pepper onto grapes.
Slice open dates and flatten
between your hands; set aside.
Divide goat cheese into 4
pieces. Place each piece in
your hand and flatten with
the heel of your other hand.
To assemble, place each grape
on a flattened date and set
in the center of the flattened
goat cheese. Form the cheese
around the date, covering
completely. Roll in chopped
pistachios. Makes 4 servings.