Don’t worry, we’re not talking about romantic rendezvous – today, we’ll be discussing dates “the fruit”, (though you can certainly enjoy dates on your date). High in fiber and antioxidants, these sweet, sticky fruits are delectable by themselves or can alternatively be incorporated into a wide selection of dishes, from savory appetizers to sweet desserts and milkshakes. But before we delve into how to choose and prepare dates, as well as the best date recipe ideas, let’s brush up on some history.

Where Do Dates Come From?

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Originally from the Middle East, dates found their way to America in the early 20th century. Back then, the U.S. Department of Agriculture sent so-called agricultural explorers on assignments around the world to find exotic produce. These explorers would then bring the new crops back to the U.S. so American farmers could cultivate them. Explorer Walter Swingle, who was tasked with traveling to the Mediterranean and North Africa. eventually brought back two varieties of dates: the Medjool and the Deglet Noor.

Date trees thrive in arid climates, so in the U.S., farmers primarily grow the fruits in desert-like environments, such as Arizona’s Bard Valley and California’s Coachella Valley. The majority of American dates come from farms tucked away in sunny Southern California.

What to Look for When Buying Dates

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Dates naturally appear dry (after all, they do hail from the desert) with a slight sheen and crinkly-looking skin. Medjool dates are typically dark in color – ranging from brown to dark brown – and you’ll want to opt for the ones that are plump, soft, and relatively unblemished (a few white spots – which are the fruit sugars – are acceptable, but crystallized bits are a no-go). The process for choosing Deglet Noor dates is similar, but this variety has amber-colored skin and, compared to Medjools, are slightly firmer, drier, and more elongated. Avoid stale dates, which look shriveled – like a raisin – and have a very stiff texture.

How to Store Dates

If you plan to use the dates within a month, they can stay fresh at room temperature in a food storage container. Make sure to place the container somewhere cool and dry, such as inside a cabinet or pantry.

However, for those who live in a hot, humid climate, it may be more advantageous to refrigerate the dates instead. Refrigerated dates can last about half a year. For longer-term storage, you can freeze them for a year at most.

Ways to Eat and Prepare Dates

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Unless you buy pitted dates, you’re going to want to remove the pit before eating the fruit. To do this, use a small serrated or paring knife to cut the date lengthwise; you should feel the blade touch the pit. Put down the knife, then peel the fruit open and discard the pit – that’s all there is to it.

Here are some ideas for how to incorporate dates into your daily menu:

Dates au Naturel

It’s fine to eat plain, pitted dates alone – or with a (human) date.

Bacon-Wrapped Dates

Bacon-wrapped dates have become a popular appetizer at trendy restaurants – and it’s not surprising, as they are the stuff of sweet-yet-savory food dreams. Medjools are often used for this dish, but Deglet Noor dates work as well – plus, the latter holds their shape better when cooked. You can even stuff the pitted dates with an almond if you’re craving an extra-crunchy texture.

Date Shake

Don’t knock it until you try it! The date milkshake is a Palm Springs Treasure. Simply blend a handful of pitted dates with milk and vanilla ice cream. To add extra oomph, spoon in cocoa powder and/or throw a banana into the mix. If you’re a chocolate lover, then head over to the F.N. Sharp Kitchen to blend up our recipe for a chocolatey take on the Palm Springs Date Shake!

Date Energy Bites

There is an abundance of recipes for these, but here’s the simplest: it requires a nut butter (such as almond, peanut, etc.), shredded coconut, and pitted dates (of course). Place the dates in a food processor and pulse until they’re crumbly. Add some nut butter into the processor, blending it with the dates to form a smooth, yet thick, paste. Take a spoonful of the mixture, roll it into a ball, then coat it with the shredded coconut.

California Everything Cookies

For a seriously delicious treat full of dates, apricots and other sweet ingredients, head over to the F.N. Sharp Kitchen to whip up this California Everything Cookies recipe by Chef Jen!