Dates are regarded as the fruits obtained from the tree called ‘date palm’. Dates are popular for its sweet honey-like taste. Initially, this fruit was consumed in fresh form but now the dried dates are highly popular in culinary world. This elongated fruit is commonly used in sweet dishes. It can be eaten whole as an appetizing snack. Both fresh and dried dates are fondly used to make date recipes including date cake, date chutney and date pudding.
History of Dates
Dates are believed to be eaten as a staple is Middle Eastern countries since very long time, approximately, thousands of years. The origin of dates has been known in Persian Gulf and since ancient times they have been cultivated in the regions of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Some of the archeological evidences also proved that the dates have also been cultivated in eastern Arabian regions around 6000 BC. From Arab, the popularity of this fruit has spread to other parts of the world such as Africa, Spain and Italy. In 1795, Spaniards had introduced the dates to Mexico and California.
Culinary Use of Dates
Dates have varied uses in kitchen while cooking some of the exotic as well as simple recipes. Date recipes mainly comprises of dried dates. Dried dates are usually chopped before adding to date dishes. An assortment of desserts is prepared by using dried as well as fresh dates. Both forms of dates are loved when served as a snack. For travelers, dates are the ideal and healthy snack. In some cuisines, date dishes are made by stuffing the whole fruit with either savory or sweet ingredients and served as well-liked appetizers. The pureed dates are mixed with paste of other fruits and fondly used to make candies that can be eaten as a sweet or used as a dessert garnish. Date candies are also made with the sugar or chocolate coating on fresh dates. Date chutney and date wines are some of the well-admired date recipes across the world. Baked items also make good use of dates. Date cakes and date cookies are widely served in global cuisine. Even date flowers and leaves are also edible and leaves are cooked as a vegetable. Dates are often added to the ‘tajines’ served in Middle Eastern cuisines.
Popular Date Recipes
• Date nut bread – It is one of the most popular date recipes of USA. It is regarded as a favorite holiday cake.
• Dates and mascarpone – It is a very popular date dessert in which dates are stuffed with mascarpone cheese.
• Kaak – This is an Arabic sweet pastry made with ground date stuffing.
• Date chutney – It is one of the most famous date dishes of Indian cuisine. Dates are softened by boiling them and then blended with other ingredients to prepare a sweet and salty condiment.
• Date rum cake – A rum glazed cake that is made with pitted dates.
• Date pie – This pie dish is made with pounded date filling and served with a topping of heavy cream.
Cuisines Commonly Making Date
Dishes Dates are highly popular in making date recipes in their native cuisine i.e. Middle Eastern cuisine. Dates lend themselves to the variety of sweet dishes as well as baked items. In Moroccan cuisine, tagines are often made with dates as one of the ingredient. Dates are also used to make vinegar and alcoholic drinks in Middle Eastern cuisine. Famous Arabic cookies (kaak) and other baked items include pounded date stuffing as well as whole dates. Candies and other garnishing items are made with either whole or chopped dates. During ‘Ramadan’, dates are regarded as traditional fruit to be consumed in the first meal. American cuisine also has a vast range of date recipes including date cake, date pies and date puddings. Stuffed dates with cheese and other sweet and savory ingredients are some of the most popular date dishes in western cuisine. Asian cuisine including Indian and Pakistani cuisines use dates in various savory and sweet dishes. Chopped dates are added as dry fruit in several meat and vegetable dishes. Boiled and pureed dates are used to make well-liked date chutney. In India and Pakistan, dates are popularly known as ‘Khajoor’. ‘Khajoor ki burfi’ is a very popular sweet in Indian cuisine.
Preferred Methods of Making Date Recipes
• Baked – Dates are commonly used to make baked items such as cakes, cookies and pies.
• Candied – Dates are often coated with sugar or chocolate to make date candies.
• Boiled – Dates are often boiled and softened to make date paste that is incorporated to make various date dishes.
• Chopped – Chopped dates are added as a garnish or an ingredient in several desserts and puddings.
• Dried – Fresh dates are dried to be used as a dry fruit in numerous date recipes.
• Pureed – Dates are often blended and turned into puree to make sweet dishes as well as date candies.
Nutritive Value of Dates
Dates are full of nutrients and provide several health benefits. Some of them are as follows:
• Dates are highly digestive and hence an ideal food for providing energy.
• Dates with milk are highly nutritious and form an energy drink for adults and kids.
• Dates are good laxatives and help in relieving constipation.
• Dates are full of vitamins and minerals and used in traditional medicines.
• Individuals having weak heart should consume dates regularly to maintain the proper cardio-vascular health.
• Proteins and dietary fibers are also present in this fruit.
Buying and Storing of Dates
Dried dates are easily available throughout the year. For buying fresh dates, September-May are the best months. November is the peak season for fresh dates. Fresh dates should have smooth and bright skin while buying and should be free from moulds. Dried dates are usually sold in packages hence tightly packed dates should be purchased after checking the ‘sell by date’. Candied dates are also sold in packets. Fresh dates should be stored in the coolest part of the refrigerator for at least one month. Dried dates can either be stored in cool, dry place in an air tight container for up to 1 year. Dried dates can also be frozen to increase the shelf life. Leftover date dishes can also be refrigerated for up to 2-3 days.
Type of Dates
Dates are having thousands of varieties that are popularly used to make exotic as well as everyday date recipes. Broadly dates are divided into three categories:
• Soft dates – These types of dates are generally fresh dates those having smooth skin with a sweet pulp inside.
• Semi-dry date – Dates fall under this class are not completely dried but the skin is not smooth.
• Dry dates – These types of dates are usually eaten as a dry fruit and a healthy snack. The skin and pulp of these dates are completely dried and hard.
Non-Food Uses of Dates
Oil is extracted from dates and used as a cosmetic product as well as included in the production of soaps. Syrup is also extracted from the ripe dates that are used to make a coating for leather bags and water pipes to prevent cracks. Dates Trivia • The highest production of dates comes from Iraq, Algeria and Tunisia.