Dried dates are a part of the palm family. They are related to both coconuts and the African oil palm. They have been grown for 6,000 years for their dried date fruit. Dates grow in subtropical areas. They are often harvested in desert areas where no other crops can be grown. At the turn of the 20th century, dates were successfully cultivated in California.
Date flowers have separate male and female parts. Pollination occurs through insects and wind. The pollen must be carried to the female flower within three to 30 days of the flower opening. Some flowers are pollinated artificially. This is less expensive, though the date palms generally produce less fruit through this method.
Dates have thick, sweet skin and are 1 to 3 inches long. When immature, they are green, yellow or red. When mature, they are dark brown. They contain very large seeds. Maturation takes six to eight months. They grow in bunches that can have as many as 1,000 dates and can weigh as much as 80 pounds.
Medjool is considered the most high quality date available. Deglet Noor are popularly grown because this variety tends to produce a lot of dates. Barhi is another popular kind of date. Unlike other dates, the Barhi is able to be eaten before it has fully matured. All other dates have to be eaten after they have turned brown and after they have been harvested.
Dried dates are commonly exported because they are large, soft and easy to ship. Moist dates contain a lot of vitamin C, iron, phosphorus and niacin. When dates are dried, they have much more iron, niacin, potassium, calcium and phosphorus, making them much more nutritious when dried. Due to the benefits of drying dates, they are not consumed raw as often. Eating a handful of dates can give the recommended daily fruit intake. They also contain a lot of fiber, making consuming the daily recommended amount of fiber much easier.
A lot of dates are eaten by themselves. They are easy snacks since they do not have to be refrigerated and can instead be stored in virtually any container. Pitted dates are sometimes used in baking. The date syrup can be used as a sweetener. The paste can be used as a cake filling. Like many other dried fruit, dried dates go well with desserts such as cupcakes and are often added to sauces, vegetable salads and stews.