About Dates

I never gave dates a great deal of thought.

There. I’ve said it. I’ve admitted to my sin. It was wrong of me to never consider this dried fruit. My mind was on other food products: food products I loved, food products I hated. I never gave the date its due consideration.

Part of the reason is that I never really ate dates on a regular basis. So, out of sight, out of mind, as the cliche goes. The times that I was able to have dates, they were bland tasteless articles shoved into plastic containers and placed on shelves in the supermarket, where they would sit for weeks, if not months.

Now, after tasting a non-packaged date, I think I have seen the light. I did a taste test between a “Dole” date and one purchased at a fruit counter at Pike Place Market. The difference is notable, for reasons that I have yet to understand. How can a dried fruit, from the same part of the country, taste so vastly different? Packaging is the only hypothesis that I can come up with.

Dates have been around since before 4,000 BC. There is evidence of cultivation in eastern Arabia around that time period. That’s a full 1000 years before the Egyptians started making a name for themselves.

There are more than 600 varieties, including cultivars, grown world-wide and different countries. Each varieties have different colors, flavors, sweetness, acidity and textures. Some are best eaten by themselves, others are used to make sugar and syrups, others are unpalatable to humans. Some of the more popular varieties include Deglet Noor, Halawy, Howaiz, Naghal and Jaberi Fardh. California (who had Dates introduced to their region by the Spaniards, who in turn, were introduced to dates by the moors) produces a variety called Deglet Noor, a semi-dry date possessing a delicate favour, and is firm-textured in appearance, with a color range from light red to amber or straw .I’ve been told Deglet Noor makes up 90% of California’s date production.

However, there is a variety considered the “Cadillac” of dates, called the “Medjool” date. I am itching to try this out as well.

There’s a strong reason why dates are as popular as they are. First and foremost, when dried properly, they can last for a year or more. Spoilage is not really an issue. In the thousands of years prior to refrigeration, this was a big deal. As a food that is tasty as well as lasting for a year or so, there was much demand for this fruit. From there, simple economics took over and the date became the fruit tree to have in your neighborhood back in the day. In ancient times, date trees could be found from what is now Pakistan all the way to present-day Morocco. No small feat for a fruit tree.

Aside being tasty, the trees produce an inordinate amount of fruit. Although it takes a while for the date palms to become mature enough to start producing fruit, once they reach maturity they can yield between 132 to 176 lbs of dates in a year, every year for the lifetime of the tree (which can be as long as 100 years or more). If you have a pollinated date tree on your property, you’ll probably never go hungry…although you may get sick of dates.

Hopefully, it will never come to that for myself. The trick will be to eat dates, but in moderation. Say, 12 lbs a year.

Yeah, I think I can handle that.

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