Clever Chef

What is a Date Fruit?

What is a Date Fruit? Look, Taste, and Uses

You won’t find dates loose in baskets at the supermarket. They’re usually packed away in packages with the dried fruit and nuts at the back of the fruit and vegetable section or elsewhere in the shop. What is a date fruit?

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Dates aren’t often something you’ll be offered to snack on at a friend’s house. But they are becoming a popular ingredient in recipes. Why are they becoming popular and what exactly are dates? Read on to find out.

What is a date fruit?

Dates are small dried stone fruits about 5cm long that are dark brown or caramel in colour. Dates grow fresh on a date palm tree, which is a tree native to areas of Northern Africa and the Middle East.

Date palms are huge palm trees about 25 metres tall. The dates grow from the top of the tree in huge bunches which can grow with more than 1,000 fruits in each bunch. Weighing a total of around 8kg!

While date fruit is eaten fresh in areas where they grow natively, we know date fruit best in the West as dried dates, which are either eaten as a snack or included in recipes. Perhaps the most well-known variety of dates are Medjool dates, which are popular because they have such a sweet flavour.

Dates have been farmed for thousands of years and made a popular travelling snack because they last for a long time. According to fossil records, dates have been around for 50 million years, first gaining popularity with humans in ancient Mesopotamia.

Today, most dates are grown in Egypt, but most Middle Eastern countries produce them too. There are over 200 varieties of dates but the most common are Medjool dates.

What do dates taste like?

The flavour of dates varies a little depending on the variety (just like apples and other fruits). But fresh dates have a sweet, honey-like flavour that only intensifies as the dates are dried. Dried dates are often sticky and sweet with a caramel-like flavour.

What is date fruit good for?

Dates are good for eating as snacks or using in recipes. We’ll cover more about how they’re used in baking recipes below. But also note that they’re often stuffed with mascarpone cheese or marzipan. And eaten as a dessert in Middle Eastern and Northern African countries.

How are dates used in recipes?

Dates have become a popular ingredient in health recipes because they provide plenty of natural sweetness and have a soft, sticky texture which is particularly desirable in baking recipes.

Dates are often found as an ingredient in healthy and/or vegan baking recipes such as cookies, pie bases, fruit bread, cereal bars, and more.

You can also chop them up and use them in salads and couscous recipes. Most recipes will call for you to chop up the dates in a food processor, which is the easiest way. But it’s best to chop them by hand for salads.

How do I pick dates?

If you’re looking for fresh dates, you’ll need to look in a specialist market (ideally one where they’re selling Middle Eastern or North African food and ingredients). And look for a bunch that are round (some varieties are more oblong in shape), plump, and have an even colour.

Dates are often sold with a yellow hue. So avoid bunches with a lot of dates that have already started to go brown.

Do I need to keep dates in the fridge?

Not if they’re dried – if you buy dried dates, you can keep them in a cupboard and they’ll keep for months even years without going bad (just check the use-by date for guidance).

If you buy fresh dates, it’s best to keep them refrigerated to extend their shelf life to about 2 weeks or longer if they start to dehydrate properly.

Are dates processed?

No, they dry out naturally – dates are simply cleaned and packaged before they make it to your hands. Most dates you’ll find here in the UK will also have already had the pit removed as a part of their processing, but no ingredients are added to help them last longer.

Are date fruit stones toxic?

No, while a lot of fruit stones have some negative effects if you eat them, date stones aren’t one of them. You can eat date stones if you choose to, but dates are generally more enjoyable with the pits removed.

Why are dates expensive?

Dates are on the pricer side because it takes a lot of effort to get them into your hands here in the UK. Date palm trees take 4-5 years to start bearing fruit. And 10-15 years to start producing those huge bunches we talked about at the start of this article.

When the dates are produced, they need to be picked, washed, have the pits removed, packed, and delivered. When you think about the fact that it takes a decade for date palms to start producing a lot of fruit, you can understand why they cost a little more than some other fruits.

Where do I buy dates?

Most supermarkets sell dates. You can buy dates in the fruit and vegetable section with other dried fruits and unflavoured nuts, in the health food section, or in the baking section.

How do I know when dates have gone bad?

Dates have gone bad if there is visible mould on the exterior of the fruit, or if there is significant crystallisation of sugar on the surface of the fruit. While the latter won’t do you any harm if you eat them, they won’t taste particularly good.

Dates are an unusual fruit. But if you’re trying to eat a healthier diet and find it hard to please your sweet tooth, you’ll soon start to see dates as a staple in your kitchen. Dates add a chewy, sweet texture to healthy and vegan baking recipes that are often a little lacklustre without refined sugar. So buy a pack and start experimenting!