What Are Dates, Anyway?

You know all about raisins, figs and prunes—but what about dates?

Dates are becoming an even more commonly used ingredient in a variety of dishes around the world. But what exactly are these sweet, chewy little fruits, and why do people love them so much?

What Are Dates?

Dates have been a staple ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine for thousands of years. The sweet fruit is widely cultivated across the Middle East, Northern Africa and South Asia. They’re cultivated in Southern California and Southern Florida in the United States and in Sonora and Baja California in Mexico.

Some describe the taste and texture of a date as a chewier, more caramelly raisin. Dates have a very high sugar content, and like bananas, their sweetness intensifies the riper they get. You can tell a date is fresh and ready to eat when it has a wrinkled exterior, looks nice and plump and has a slightly glossy sheen.

They are perfect by themselves as a snack, or used for extra sweetness and texture in baking and cooking. Dates make a great healthy swap for white sugar in recipes, too. (You can also get date syrup, which makes a rich substitute for honey.) They’re one of the secret ingredients that make Grandma’s baking so special—here are the others.

Is There a Difference Between Medjool Dates and Regular Dates?

Medjool dates are large and have wrinkled skin with a chocolate brown color. They are typically softer and sweeter than other dates, which make them ideal for making date paste, chocolate mousse, chia pudding and using in savory dishes. Medjool dates taste like a sweet mix of caramel, cinnamon and honey.

You’ll also find Deglet Noor dates, aka “regular dates,” at your grocery store. They have slightly smoother skin and a rich caramel hue. They’re also chewier, drier and usually a bit smaller, making them great to snack on, add to trail mix or granola and use as an ingredient in baking recipes.

You’ll likely run into all sorts of dates at a Middle Eastern market—but Medjool and Deglet Noor are the most common.

What Are the Benefits of Eating Dates?

Since dates are closely related to figs and raisins, they have a high calorie count due to their naturally elevated sugar content. But fear not: Dates also contain lots of essential vitamins and minerals and are very high in antioxidants. Just a handful of dates contains seven grams of fiber, two grams of protein, potassium, magnesium and other good-for-you nutrients.

The fiber in dates can also slow digestion and may help control blood sugar levels. Dates contain several types of antioxidants that may help prevent the development of certain chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. Don’t miss the other health benefits of eating dates!

How to Cook with Dates
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Ceara Milligan
Ceara “Kiwi” Milligan is a professional marketing strategist and copywriter who is proud to call Milwaukee home. She loves baking, cooking, writing, listening to music, dancing, playing and hosting trivia, watching college basketball (Go Marquette!), telling lame jokes, and petting every dog that crosses her path.