General Description: Dates are the small oblong fruits of the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera). While the origin of the date palm is lost in antiquity, date gardens were well established throughout the region once known as Mesopotamia. About 2,000 years ago, nomadic tribes spread the date palm from the Middle East through the Sahara Desert, planting palms in oases. Moors from Arabia eventually brought date palms across North Africa to Spain. Spanish padres brought the palms with them to the New World. According to an Arabic proverb, the date palm grows best “with its head in fire and its feet in water.”

Dates fall into three types: soft, semidry, and dry. Soft dates have a soft flesh, high moisture content, and low sugar content. Semidry dates have firm flesh, moderate moisture content, and high sugar content. Dry dates (known as “bread dates”) have dry, hard flesh and high sugar content. The two most popular varieties are the Deglet Noor, a semidry date, and the soft Medjool date, prized by Moroccan royalty.

Season: Dates are in season in the late fall, but may be found year-round, depending on the variety.

Purchase: Choose plump, soft dates with smooth, shiny skin.

Avoid: Avoid very shriveled dates or those with mold or sugar crystals on the skin.

Storage: Refrigerate fresh dates in a plastic bag for up to 2 weeks. Dried dates can be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months, or up to a year in the refrigerator.


  1. Make a lengthwise slit and push back the flesh.
  2. Pull out the pit.

Serving Suggestions: Stuff the date with any of the following: cheese, cream cheese mixed with marmalade, or almond paste. Add chopped dates to curried chicken salad.

Flavor Affinities: Almonds, brown sugar, chocolate, coconut, cream cheese, honey, orange, pistachios, walnuts.

from Quirk Books: