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Dates 101

Your Guide to Cooking, Buying, and Storing Dates

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In the Middle East, dates have been a staple for centuries. There is evidence to show that ancient Mesopotamians cultivated the fruit and that its origins lie in or around the Persian Gulf. Today, dates are used in such Middle Eastern dishes such as stuffed dates, date nut bread, ma’amoul, and haysa al-tumreya, a popular dip for dates.

The date is a single seed bearing fruit from the date palm tree which can take up to ten years to produce enough fruit for harvest. When unripe they can be bright yellow or red in color, and when ripe are brown and shriveled, similar to a prune. There are several different varieties of dates grouped together into three main groups based on their sugar content - soft, semi-dry, and dry. All areas of the Middle East that produce dates have their own varieties. Though the fruit is basically the same in all areas, each region has slight differences, such as taste and size, which distinguish them from the other. Today dates are an important fruit harvested in Arabia, Iraq and Morocco. Some states in the United States, such as California also cultivate dates.

In the United States, dates can be purchased in grocery stores, health food stores and online, and are relatively inexpensive. Most varieties contain their seeds, but pitted dates can easily be found. They can be eaten fresh, dried, chopped, candied, stuffed, and added to recipes, such as bread.

Buying and Storing Fresh Dates

When purchasing dates, look for fruit that are plump and have an even color. Purchased dates will usually either be fresh or dried and look similar in appearance. To store fresh dates, keep in refrigerator in an airtight container for up to six months. Dried dates can be stored in the same manner with a shelf life of up to one year. Freezing is also a storage option that allows for an even longer lifespan when kept in an airtight plastic bag or container.
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