Dates are a delicious alternative to sugary snacks and processed foods. The date fruit not only tastes good but is good for you. The nutritional value of dates is well documented, and people have known about the healing properties of the fruit for thousands of years.
Dates are great all by themselves, but they are also amazing stuffed or used as an addition to cereals, salads, and bread. But how do you go about finding the perfect dates? What should you look for when shopping for fresh dates?
Dried dates can be a treat especially when fresh dates are out of season. However, they are not nearly the same as the fresh fruit. Drying the dates also dramatically reduces the nutritional value and healing qualities of dates. So, while there is no reason not to enjoy the dried variety, you are in for a treat when you go for fresh.
The Best Time to Buy Fresh Dates
In the United States, the majority of dates are grown in southern California and Arizona. They are also produced in smaller quantities in Florida, Nevada, Southern Utah, and Texas. These dates are harvested each year between September and March. That makes the fall and winter months the best time of year to find fresh dates. However, that is not the only time of year. In specialty stores and Middle Eastern markets, fresh dates are often shipped in year-round.
If you want to know the very best time to get fresh dates in your location, speak to the produce manager at your local store. They may know exactly when to expect a shipment of freshly harvested dates.
Types of Dates
When trying to spot a good date, it is a good idea to know what you are looking at. While hundreds of varieties of dates are grown in the Middle East and around the world, most dates grown in the U.S. are of the Deglet Noor and Medjool varieties. The Deglet Noor variety is slender, semi-soft, and chewy. Organic Medjool dates, on the other hand, are plump in shape and tender in consistency.
It is also essential to understand that the characteristics of dates vary by when they are harvested. Some farmers harvest as soon as they are ripe. These dates tend to be very soft. Other fresh dates sold in the U.S. are left on the tree for a bit longer after they are ripe. This allows them to dry out some and last longer after harvest.
How to Choose Dates
Once you find fresh dates at your local market, there are some things to look for to make sure that you are getting the best date fruit. First of all, look at the skin. It is okay if the skin is a little wrinkled but it should be unbroken. Also, be sure that the exterior is not hard. You want to find dates that look plump and you want their skin to have a glossy appearance.
There are also some things to avoid. Stay away from dates that have sugar crystals on their skins. It is okay if there is a little bit of whiteness but avoid actual crystals. These will be easy to see on the surface of the skin. This means that they are no longer as fresh as you want them to be.
Always avoid dates that smell bad. Dates don’t usually have a strong odor. You will notice a delicate fragrance, but if they smell at all rotten, they are going bad, and you will want to avoid them.
How to Store Fresh Dates
Once you have found the perfect dates, you will want to be sure that you store them correctly to keep them tasting great until you are ready to eat them. Like most fruits, how you store your dates will depend on how long you want to keep them. Depending on when you plan to use them, you can store them at room temperature, in the refrigerator, or even in the freezer.
If your dates came in an airtight container, they can last, unopened, at room temperature for up to a month. Just be sure to keep them in a cool, dry location and not near any heat sources. Once the container is open, be sure to reseal it, or move your dates to another airtight container or bag.
If you want to keep them a bit longer or live in a hot climate, your dates will last longer in the refrigerator. In fact, some date sellers recommend that they go directly into the fridge. Just because they are refrigerated, doesn’t mean you don’t need to protect them from drying out. Make sure they are in a sealed, airtight container.
If you want to keep dates around even longer, they will be just fine in the freezer. If you have an unopened package, it can go straight into the freezer. If not, make sure you put your dates in an airtight freezer bag or another sealed container. The high sugar content in dates means that they will freeze well and taste great when you thaw them.
Great Dates Every Time
Your first few times buying fresh dates may take a little extra time and focus. You will need to look closely at the skin and overall look and feel of the dates. But, once you have done it a couple of times, you will be able to spot a great date right away.
The good part is when you get home and can eat them as a delicious snack or add them to your favorite recipes. Or, you can let those dates live in the refrigerator or freezer until you are ready for them. No matter what, you are in for a treat from this delicious fruit with a long list of health benefits.