What is a date?
Sticky date pudding, a sweet, moist cake made with chopped dates and smothered with caramel sauce is a classic comfort dessert that is served with custard or cream. Dates are also a perfect pairing for almonds or walnuts, and can be stuffed with soft cheeses and aromatic herbs and spices.
It is believed that dates originated in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) around 3500 BC. Nowadays, date palms grow in over 40 countries and are commonly found in North Africa, the Middle East, South Africa, the southern parts of Asia and the
In Australia, there are now some commercial date farms in the Northern Territory, South Australia and Queensland.
In Australia, most of the dates available have been imported from the Middle East, Israel or California. The colour of dates ranges from golden brown to black.
The fruit is categorised depending on the moisture content. Soft dates have the most moisture, followed by semi-dry and dry dates, which contain little or no moisture.
The Medjool is a soft date variety that is grown in the Northern Territory. The Deglet Noor, a semi-dry date, is also grown there.
Why dates are good to eat
- Dates are a good source of vitamin B6 (which is involved in the production of red blood cells and regulation of nerve function) and contain some folate.
- They also contain minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure) and manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function).
- Dates contain dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
- Energy – 100 g of dates supplies 1159 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
The date palm grows best in sub-tropical areas that have long, hot summers and little summer rain. The palm takes five to six years to produce its first crop of fruit but it can then produce fruit (more than 70 kg) every year for nearly 80 years.
Date palms grow to between 15 and 20 m. They have long leaves (3–7 m) with large spines that grow on the main stalk. Male and female flowers are produced on separate palms. Female palm trees are ready for pollination two or three days after the female flowers open. The palms are pollinated by the wind but in commercial production they are pollinated by hand or by a mechanical pollinator.
Dates are classified according to their stage of ripeness (known by their Arabic names). When they are khalal (fresh), the fruit changes from green to yellow or red and is crunchy and sweet. At the rutab (ripe) stage, dates may have become brown and are ripe and soft. The tamar (or cured) stage results in dates that are fully mature, ripe and have low moisture content. These dates are allowed to ripen further or dry.
Choose good quality dates that do not have visible damage to the skin. Avoid dates that appear mouldy.
How to store and keep dates
Store fresh dates in the fridge. Dried dates should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature in a cool, dry place. They will keep for up to six months if stored this way.
How to use
- Try savoury dates – stuff soft dates with crispy bacon (or chicken) mixed with cream cheese and freshly chopped herbs.
- Enjoy date scones – add chopped dates to your scone mixture and bake until golden.
- Serve an unusual salad – mix orange segments (blood oranges look great) with slivers of dates, then dress with the juice from the oranges, a squeeze of lemon and sprinkle with ground cinnamon before serving.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Better Health Channel
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