With a history stretching back 8,000 years to the ancient gardens of Babylon, the date has long been Nature’s answer to our sweet tooth. Date palms are native to the Middle East and thrive in hot desert climates, where, according to an Arabic proverb, they grow with their “heads in fire and their feet in water.” In antiquity, the prolifically fruiting date palm was revered as the tree of life. Every part of the tree was put to use: fruit, sap (which was brewed into wine); fibers for thread, rope and baskets, and even the pits, which were used as fuel or fodder.
Introduced to the New World by the Spanish, date palms flourish today in the arid regions of California and Arizona. Although there are numerous varieties of dates, each with its own distinctive taste, texture and size, the two most popular varieties in the United States are Deglet Noor and Medjool. Deglet Noors are a semi-dry date with a light golden brown color; this is the variety we use for Earthbound Farm Organic Dates. They represent about 95 percent of the commercial production in this country and are readily available in markets. Medjools, on the other hand, are generally sold as fresh fruit, and are often only available in specialty stores.
How to store dates
Store dates in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months, or refrigerate for up to a year. If you see a white bloom on the skin of your dates, it’s a sign that the date is drying, which causes the fruit’s natural sugars to rise to the surface; this doesn’t affect the quality or flavor of the fruit. To re-hydrate the dates, simply steam them for 10 minutes, or place on a baking tray covered with a wet towel, and heat in the oven at 250 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes.
Tips for using dates
Moist, chewy and sweet, dates make a healthy on-the-go snack or a delicious addition to salads and baked goods. Dates are very versatile and can be substituted for other dried fruits in baking. To make quick hors d’oeuvres, stuff fresh dates with nuts, foie gras, almond paste or soft cheese. Or, for a surprisingly delicious party favorite, wrap dates with a strip of bacon and broil until the bacon is crisp.
To chop or slice dates, snip with scissors or cut with a knife. If they’re excessively sticky, freeze the dates for 45 minutes before working with them. Alternately, if you’re using chopped dates in a baked treat, dust them lightly with flour to help minimize sticking as you slice.