The date is a small, oblong fruit of the date palm tree that grows in clusters of as many as 200. The mature date is approximately 2 inches long and 1 inch wide and has a somewhat wrinkled skin and a single, central pit. Dates can be yellow to orange, red, green, or brown.
Fresh dates are classified as “soft,” “semisoft,” and “dry,” depending on their moisture content. The most common type is “semisoft,” a well-known example of which is the large, flavorful Medjool from Morocco. Other “semisoft” varieties are the firm-fleshed, amber Deglet Noor and the small, golden Zahidi. The Barhi, Khadrawy, and Halawy are “soft” dates. “Dry” varieties contain relatively little moisture when ripe. Thus, the term “dry” does not mean “dehydrated” or “dried.”
The date palm grows to about 100 feet in height. The tree itself can thrive in almost any warm climate, but fruit production requires a hot, dry environment with an underground water supply. Humidity prevents the fruit from setting, and temperatures below 70° Fahrenheit prevent ripening.
The dates most often available in stores are either fresh or partly dehydrated. These may be difficult to distinguish, because fresh dates are rather wrinkled, and both types are usually packaged in cellophane. Covered and refrigerated, both types should keep indefinitely.
Fresh dates can be eaten as a snack or chopped and added to dry and cooked cereal, yogurt, puddings, breads and muffins, cookies, and ice cream. Middle Eastern recipes include dates in stews, poultry stuffing, and pilafs.
One serving of dates provides minimal amounts of vitamins and minerals, but dates are a good source of dietary fiber.