Originating in the Middle East, these sweet fruits sit on top of date palm trees along with branches of feathery looking, hard, green leaves which are long and sharp. The thick, long stalk extending from the trunk of the tree carries the fruit in clusters, on long, yellow strands on its tip, resembling a broom. The fruit is oval shaped and varies in length approximately from 1-2.5 inches with a pit residing inside its flesh. The variety of the date palm determines its shape, size and color which range from yellow to red to brown.
Dates are astringent until fully mature and taste extremely sweet when ripe. The ripening process occurs during various stages and a different taste emerges with each stage. Unripe dates taste bitter, when fully ripened the skin of the dates will get wrinkly and soft allowing the skin to be removed effortlessly. The taste will be syrupy or honey-like when dates are completely ripe.
Harvest time for dates starts in September and continues during the following few months. They can be harvested prior to being fully ripe and ripen at room temperature.
Dates mainly grow in the Arabic countries where they are exposed to plenty of sun which is essential for their growth. In Turkey, the Mediterranean and Agean Sea regions have adequate climates to grow dates; therefore, date palm trees are very common in my province Hatay (Southern Turkey). My late grandparents had a date palm tree in their garden which bears red dates that are longer and sweeter than the yellow ones. The inner part of date is white regardless of the skin color. In my opinion, red dates are far more delicious than their yellow counterparts and my favorite stage is the crunchy and sweet stage. I recall a classmate in grade school bringing dates with her regularly from her family’s many date palm trees and sharing with me. If I am remembering correctly, she used to bring red and yellow ones, although the yellow dates were similar to the red ones in terms of shape. They looked different than what I have shown in the picture above.
This is another fruit that I had never seen outside Houston in the U.S. Although dry dates are widely available in the U.S., fresh dates are mainly sold at some Middle Eastern stores in states where large Arabic population exist, such as Michigan. This is the first time I have ever purchased dates. When I saw them the first time a few years ago, I thought they were not ripe enough and had forgotten the fact that they would ripen when left at room temperature! I just wish I could find red dates; then, I would purchase them regularly.
If you, like me, also develop a curiosity on the health benefits of fruit and vegetables you eat, you probably wonder about the health benefits of dates while reading this post. Dates are full of fiber, carotene, calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, iron and antioxidants. They are also good for digestion, sore throat, colds and protection against heart diseases.
If you see fresh dates in your grocery store’s produce department or anywhere else, give them a try!