Dates are versatile, nutritious, and naturally sweet so they are often used as a natural alternative to sweeten baked goods. They are easily digested and their high fiber content enables the smooth movement of waste through the body. As a carbohydrate, dates are a source of instant energy because of their concentrated natural sugar content which is very high.
So the answer is yes in moderation. Too much can possibly result in gas and diarrhea so start off with a small amount to see how they tolerate it. Be sure to REMOVE THE PITS which could easily cause choking. Often times when I’m cutting dates for a recipe Kirby and Kenzie are eagerly watching me. I cut the dates in half lengthwise and remove the pit with my fingers. Now and then I hand each dog a pitted half which they gobble up. Also remember they are high in sugar content so watch the calories.
Bananas surpass dates in vitamins C and A but dates have twice as much potassium, three times as much iron, twice as much protein, and six times as much calcium as bananas. One pitted date has roughly 66 calories and virtually no fat.
Background of Dates
Dates are the sweet fruits that grow high in the palm trees of the hot, dry Middle Eastern deserts. Africa and California also produce many flavorful varieties. Date palms do best in hot, dry climates with no rain with just a small amount of water for their roots. It's an ideal oasis plant since water is fed from underground and not from rain. If there's any humidity in the air, the fruit won't ripen. Cultivation happened as early as 3000 B.C. where the fruit was eaten fresh or dried. In Mesopotamia, date paste was the preferred sweetener over honey. The Romans stuffed dates with nuts and spices, coated them with honey, and baked them as sweet treats. In southern India, Marco Polo proclaimed that date wine was more powerful than grape wine.
In the arid desert where fresh foods are hard to come by, the nutritious date is truly a gift from God as attested by the Israelites in Exodus. Besides their fruit value, date palms are versatile trees. The fronds are made into sandals, baskets, rope, roofs, and bricks while the wood provides lumber, furniture and fuel. Travelers in the desert can create instant shelters using leaves and trunks to shade and protect them from desert winds. They also used dates to sweeten beer and make wine.
Types of Dates
There are three main types of dates.
- Soft dates are mostly eaten fresh, are mild in flavor, with lower sugar content. They're more common in the Middle East though other world areas import them during Ramadan.
- Hard dates are dry and fibrous even when fresh, hence the nicknames of "camel" dates or "bread" dates. Drying intensifies their hard consistency and also their sweetness, and they'll last for years. Nomads relied on these dates as staples often grinding them into flour. Today, trekkers pack these firm dates as survival snacks.
- Semi-dry dates are aromatic, softer and chewier, with a pleasant level of sweetness.
Varieties of Dates
There are over a thousand date varieties but these are the ones most commonly sold.
- Medjool - Large, soft, and sweet with thick flesh and rich flavor. You can usually find these in the fresh produce section of the grocery store. Always soak them before using in recipes in either warm or cold water until they are soft enough to remove the pit by hand (30 minutes up to 2 hours). 1 pound whole dates = 2-1/2 cups pitted and chopped.
- Deglet Noor "Date of Light" - Semi-dry, nutty, medium sweet. The amber color is translucent when held to a light. You can usually find these in the dried fruit aisle. Be sure to read the package label to avoid any added sugars, flavors or preservatives. 8-ounce package pitted dates = 1-1/4 cups chopped.
- Barhi - Like candy; among the softest and sweetest of all dates, with caramel tones. Some people enjoy them chilled.
- Halawi "sweet" - Sweet and sticky, semi-soft, moist, and higher on the sweetness scale than many other dates, with a caramel color and undertone.
- Honey dates - Soft, creamy with a rich honey and caramel-like flavor. A buttery, melt-in-your mouth treat. A cousin of the deglet noor.
- Khadrawi - This type contains less invert sugar, and is better for those with sugar sensitivities
- Thoory - These "bread" dates are drier, thicker, and chewier. Good to pack for hikes and outdoor snacks.
- Zahidi - Semi dry and less intense than some varieties, but still on the sweet side.
Buying and Storing Dates
Look for plump, soft dates. Avoid any that are shriveled, show signs of mold, or have crystals on their skin. They'll last up to two weeks refrigerated in a plastic bag.
Dried dates are not fully dried. They're sold slightly moist and are meant to be eaten that way. Store them in an air tight container in a cool, dry place for six to eight months. Over time they'll lose their moistness and become drier. Refrigerated dried dates will last up to a year.
Dates are sticky so snipping the dates with scissors works better than chopping with a knife. You can dip the blades into warm water or flour periodically. I have found that the ceramic knifes work extremely well. To chop them in a food processor, add a bit of oatmeal to the bowl, process into a powder, then add the dates and process until chopped. Afterwards you can pour the dates into a colander and shake away any excess oatmeal flour.
- Whole dates
- Chopped dates - dried, chopped dates with a light oat flour coating to keep them from sticking together.
- Date Honey/Date Syrup - made from cooked dates. Can be used the same as molasses, maple syrup or honey.
- Date vinegar - vinegar fermented from dates. Dark and fruity, a good substitute for balsamic vinegar.
- Date sugar, date powder, date crystals - dehydrated ground dates; date crystals are sold as flakes; use in baking to replace brown sugar
- Date paste - dried or fresh dates softened in water for several hours, then mashed and blended into a smooth, spreadable paste. Sold in jars or easily made at home. Date paste can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a week and frozen for up to three months. The paste adds a subtle sweetness that can be used in everything from smoothies to pies. The easiest way to begin using date paste is to substitute it for the exact amount of liquid sweeteners such as maple syrup or honey.
- Sparkling date juice - is a non-alcoholic alternative to champagne.
- Date Coffee - the pits are roasted, ground, and made into a hot beverage.