Yes, dates look like raisins—but they're actually a fresh fruit! Learn more about why dates deserve a spot in your pantry, fridge or freezer.
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Dates have been a staple ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine for thousands of years, especially during Ramadan. However, they haven’t been as common in American dishes, despite their versatility and health benefits. We’re here to debrief you on what dates are, how they’re grown and harvested, the best ways to eat them and more.
What Are Dates?
Dates look like giant raisins—and some even describe the taste and texture as a chewier, more caramelly raisin. However, contrary to popular belief, they’re not actually dried as raisins are. The plump, poppable fruits are harvested with plenty of wrinkles straight off the palm tree.
Hundreds of varieties of dates are cultivated across the Middle East, Northern Africa, South Asia and North America, in places like Mexico, Arizona and Southern California. Medjool and Deglet Noor are the two most popular types in the U.S.
Medjool Dates vs. Deglet Noor Dates
Medjool dates are large and very wrinkly, with a darker purplish hue. They’re typically softer and sweeter than other varieties, which makes them great for eating whole or blending up into a smoothie or date syrup.
Deglet Noor dates are smaller, drier, and have slightly smoother skin than Medjools. This caramel-colored variety is often chopped up and used in baked goods.
How Medjool Dates Are Harvested
We talked with David Baxter, director of marketing for Natural Delights, one of America’s largest producers of Medjool dates, to learn how the fruit goes from the palm tree to the grocery store.
Dates are grown and harvested on date palms in very warm, dry climates like the desert. While they’re growing, farmers have to check on the fruit anywhere from 12 to 18 times, which is why dates can be more expensive than other fresh fruits.
Once they’re ready for harvest in mid-October every year, workers simply have to shake the branch to prompt the rest of the dates to fall off, since many of them fall off on their own when they’re ripe. Each palm produces anywhere from 200 to 250 pounds of fruit.
After they’re pitted, processed and packed into containers to be sold at your local grocery store, they’ll last at room temperature for up to 6 months, in the fridge for up to a year, and in the freezer for up to 2 years—so you don’t have to worry about them going bad before you have a chance to eat them.
Health Benefits of Eating Dates
The list of health benefits of dates is long—making them a great healthy snack and addition to your diet. Although they have a high-calorie count due to their naturally elevated sugar content, 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 help with digestion, and the several types of antioxidants they contain may help prevent the development of certain chronic illnesses, such as heart disease.
How to Eat and Cook with Dates
Typically, Deglet Noor dates are best for baking with, while Medjool dates are best for savory dishes, snacking and eating whole. Regardless of the variety, there are a few things you can do to make prepping dates a little bit easier:
If you plan to cut up dates for a recipe like date-filled rugelach, put them in the freezer for 15 minutes first. “Having them a little bit frozen will make them less sticky when you cut them and leave less residue on the knife,” says Baxter.
If you plan to blend them into a date shake or smoothie, soak them in hot water for a few minutes first, which will make them softer and more easily blended.
Some of our favorite recipes include peanut butter stuffed, chocolate-covered dates and bacon-wrapped dates. When asked what his favorite way to eat dates was, Baxter said that he likes them stuffed with cream cheese and some chocolate chips for a nighttime snack. If he’s making an appetizer for a party, he’ll make bacon-wrapped stuffed dates with seasoned goat cheese.
Check out more of our date recipes if you want more ideas for how to eat them!
Although simple, chocolate-covered dates may quickly become one of your favorite date recipes. Peanut butter and chocolate come together to make the caramelly fruit taste almost like a Snickers—especially if you add chopped nuts. Check out our copycat candy bar recipes if you want more homemade versions of your favorite wrapped sweets.
Go to Recipe
If you’re looking for a dressed up appetizer, pistachio and date ricotta crostini are a perfect choice. While we love dates paired with cheese and nuts, you can use figs in their place if that’s all you have on hand. After you try these, keep other creative crostini recipes in mind for future get-togethers.
This date recipe is also vegan, thanks to the use of almond milk. However, feel free to use your favorite milk instead. Then, try more of our smoothie recipes, and make sure you know about all of the health benefits of dates.
This sweet European cake recipe is swirled with a filling made of walnuts, dates, cinnamon, sugar and more. It tastes just as delicious as it looks—just like so many of our other cinnamon bread recipes.
While these golden-brown date-filled rugelach are full of flavor already, feel free to roll the dough in cinnamon sugar instead of flour if you want to add a little more personality. It would pair nicely with the dates, ginger and orange zest.
These stunning Finnish pinwheels will the star of any cookie tray you put them on. A final dusting of confectioners' sugar makes them perfectly pretty. Once you finish the last one, try making more cookies from around the world.
This date pecan tea bread packs our favorite wrinkly fruit into not only the bread itself, but the chunky cream cheese spread on top too. Make sure the bread lasts as long as possible by storing it wrapped in an airtight container.
If you're a fruitcake lover, you'll love this spiced rum fruitcake with plenty of nuts, dried fruits and more. Keep it in the fridge for up to a few months at a time—or if you finish it up before then, try your hand at more of our fruitcake recipes.
Molasses, anise extract, brown sugar, and plenty of other mix-ins are what make this German bread so flavorful. Serve squares of lebkuchen fresh out of the oven, with a generous drizzle of glaze. If you love this bread, don't forget to try our top star anise recipes.
Date recipes can be savory, too! Dates make an unexpected but wonderful combo with citrus, carrots and couscous. Serve this couscous recipe with your favorite roasted, meaty main dish for a well-rounded meal.
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.
Lauren is an associate editor at Taste of Home, focusing on search engine optimization. When she’s not making sure readers can find TOH’s recipes on Google, she’s practicing her food photography, consistently finding new recipes to try and hunting down the most indulgent treats in the Twin Cities.