History of Dates
The sweet date fruit is of oval-cylindrical shape ranging from 3-7 cm. Its color when ripe ranges from bright red to a light caramel color, depending on its variety. In Arabic, it is called “Tamr”, while the Indians call it “Khajoor”. Its Latin name is “Dactylifera”, which comes from the Greek word “daktulos” meaning ‘finger’, indicating the fruit’s shape.
Dates have existed in the Middle Eastern culture for thousands of years – in fact, archaeologic evidence suggests that dates have been cultivated since 6,000 BC. They are believed to have first appeared in today’s Iraq. From the Middle East, date palms cultivation spread to North Africa, and then to North America (California, specifically), to South Africa and finally to Australia. Today, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is among the top 10 cultivators of dates worldwide, with date palm trees growing in streets, private homes, royal palaces and public gardens.
Around 3,000 types of dates exist today. There are three main categories of dates in which all the varieties fall:
- Soft dates (such as the Medjool and Halawy dates)
- Semi-dry (such as the Dayri and Zahdi)
- Dry (such as the Thoory)
In addition, dates can be consumed in one of its 4 maturity stages, known all over the world as: 1) kimri (meaning unripe), 2) khalaal (not yet ripe, crunchy), 3) rutab (semi-ripe and soft), and finally 4) tamr (ripe and dry)
Date palms are deeply ingrained in the Middle Eastern culture. Since olden times, the Bedouin Arabs have had numerous uses for this sweet, nutritious fruit. It was used, for example, in Ancient Egypt to make date wine. They were also commonly eaten whole. Dried dates were kept in storage for long periods of time, so they were beneficial for Arabs living in the desert. They were also made into date syrup to provide nutrition all year around.
Apart from culture, dates also have important religious significance for many. This fruit has been found in the Bible over 50 times, and 20 times in the Quran. Muslims use this fruit together with milk or yogurt to break their fasts at sunset during Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month.
While dates are widely exported worldwide in large quantities, very few people have knowledge of the rich history and culture behind this sweet fruit.
Dates Nutrition Facts
Around 3,000 varieties of dates exist, and while they all possess almost the same types of nutrients and vitamins in them, the amounts of these nutrients and vitamins may differ from date to date. The nutritional information below is mostly taken from that of the Medjool date, which is the most popular type of date.
- Each Medjool date contains around 66 calories, which makes it a great snack.
- It is fat-free and cholesterol free
- Dates are very low in sodium.
- A single date provides us with 6% of our daily dietary fiber requirement.
- Dates are very high in sugar, with 16g of sugars (mostly glucose and fructose) in one date.
- Dates are an excellent source of Vitamin A (35.8 IU), folate (3.6mcg), calcium (15.4 mg), magnesium (13 mg), phosphorus (14.9 mg) and potassium (167 mg).
18 Important Health Benefits of Dates
Dates are among one of the most effective natural remedies for constipation. Its laxative property comes from its high fiber content, which can be further enhanced by soaking them overnight before consuming it first thing in the morning.
For those who would like to gain weight or avoid losing too much fat, dates are an excellent option. They are high in both calories and sugar – one kilo of dates contain around 3,000 calories.
Provides an Energy Boost
Dates are high in natural sugars like fructose and sucrose, and are perfect for an energy boost in the middle of the day to revitalize and energize the body. For this reason, Muslims eat dates when they break their fasts during Ramadan. Just don’t overdo it, as dates are high in calories and sugar, and can cause weight gain!
Helps with Pregnancy and Delivery
Pregnant women in some cultures are advised to have dates throughout their pregnancy period for good nutrition and easier delivery. In addition, a scientific study showed that eating dates in the third trimester can significantly decrease the chances of artificial induction.
Helps Treat Anemia
Dates are an excellent source of iron, which gives an energy boost and strength to those suffering from fatigue due to anemia.
Promotes Bone Health
Dates contain important vitamins and minerals which contribute to good bone health. They can help avoid bone diseases which occur with age, such as osteoporosis, and promote healthy, strong bones.
Helps Cardiovascular Health
Heart health is also improved by consuming dates over time. This fruit is high in dietary fiber, which plays a key role in controlling and reducing cholesterol levels. Dates also contain potassium, which has been associated with lower heart diseases.
Provide Allergy Relief
Dates can provide some relief from seasonal allergies. This may be a surprising benefit, but research has also backed it up. Apparently, dates contain some organic sulfur compounds that are not commonly found in other food items, which help eliminate allergic reactions.
A Good Hangover Remedy
Dates are often used as a hangover remedy. Have some dates with a bottle of water before bed – the combination of the two may provide relief from hangover the next morning. For best result, soak the dates overnight (preferably before your night out).
Improves Digestive Health
Apart from aiding constipation, dates play a role in improving our overall digestive health. Fiber is imperative for cleaning our gastrointestinal intestines and detoxify the body. Dates helps avoid developing digestive problems such as colitis. Regular consumption of dates encourages the growth of good bacteria in the stomach, which improves digestion.
Increases Sexual Stamina and Fertility
Dates are traditionally known to increase a person’s sexual drive, and also raises sperm count and motility, thus enhancing fertility. There is a scientific basis for this as well – a study conducted in 2006 showed that dates, due to its flavonoid and estradiol compounds, can improve fertility. Soak 5-10 dates in goat milk overnight. In the morning, process the dates and milk together in the blender, add honey and enjoy.
The liver is responsible for cleansing the body of toxins. It filters the blood to eliminate waste from the body. Sometimes, liver fibrosis can occur, which is the function of wound healing in the liver due to liver damage. Dates can help limit the amount of liver fibrosis. It can also aid combat other liver diseases as well, such as cirrhosis.
Dates contains magnesium, an anti-inflammatory compound which protects from and reduce inflammatory diseases that damage body tissues and organs. It may also reduce certain types of cancer, such as abdominal cancer. A study proved that consuming magnesium-rich foods can reduce inflammatory detectors in the body, as well as treat inflammation in the arteries.
Maintains Nervous System Health
The proper functioning of the nervous system depends on potassium, a nutrient which is abundant in dates. Potassium helps control the heart rate and blood pressure, and promotes the overall nervous system health.
Eliminates Night Blindness
A date a day keeps night blindness away. This is a fact, and research by the American Cancer Society has proved that consuming dates on a daily basis can protect against night blindness, primarily due to the fiber present in it.
Thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, dates can provide relief to those suffering from various types of abdominal cancer, such as liver, pancreatic, bowel and stomach cancer.
Reduces Blood Pressure
Magnesium, apart from healing inflammation, can also help control the body’s blood pressure levels. The high potassium content in dates also contributes to reducing blood pressure, as well ensure proper functioning of the heart.
Promotes Good Brain Health
Dates are also a good source of Vitamin B-6, which has been found to improve brain functions such as raising concentration and memory to aid in better test performance.
Tips For Usage (Cooking/Eating)
- Enjoy dates as they are!
- Date milkshake: Blend some fat-free vanilla ice cream, banana, yogurt and dates for a delicious milkshake.
- In salads: Add it to your salads for a sweet taste.
- Stuffed snack: Replace the pit with a nut like almond or walnut, for a delicious snack in the middle of the day.
- Filling breakfast: Add dates to your cereal with some nuts.
- Trail mix: Mix some dry dates with nuts and other dried fruits for a fun DIY trail mix.
- Over desserts: dice some dates over ice cream or frozen yogurt.
- A delicious treat: Remove the pits, process with a bit of butter, and shape into balls. Coat with some coconut flakes and enjoy!
Fun Facts of Dates
- Date got its name from the Greek word “daktylos”, which means finger.
- They have a long shelf life due to its high sugar content.
- The date palm is the national symbol of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, representing vitality and growth. It is very popular in the Middle East and people have many uses for it in that region.
- It is said that dates were first grown around 8,000 years ago in Iraq.
- For date palms to yield high-quality fruit, they need a minimum of 100 days in a temperature of 38°C (100°F) and copious amounts of water.
- Dates are traditionally used by Muslims to break their fast every evening during their annual fasting month Ramadan.
- Around 3,000 varieties of dates exist in the world to date. The dates that are most expensive and difficult to grow are called Medjool, which are large-sized and caramel-colored.
- Four million tons of dates are produced globally each year.
- In Oman, it is a tradition for families to plant a date tree when a son is born.
- UAE has most of the world’s date palm trees (98%).
- The date tree is considered to be “the tree of life” in the Garden of Eden, according to Islamic culture.
Side Effects & Danger of Dates
Increases Blood Sugar
This is an obvious side effect. Dates contain a lot of sugar and can therefore increase blood sugar levels. Dry dates, especially, have a higher glycemic index than even glucose.
Can Cause Weight Gain
Dietary fiber can help you lose weight, but dates are a high-calorie food which can prevent weight loss despite its rich fiber content. Each gram of the date fruit contains around 2.8 calories, which does not make it an ideal food if you’re trying to lose weight.
Too many dates can cause abdominal aches and cramps. Two things cause this: a) there is too much fiber, and b) the body is sensitive to sulphite, which is a chemical added to dates to maintain their shape and shine.
Wind and Gas
Dates are rich in fructose, which is notorious for causing stomach ache and other abdominal problems such as wind and gas.
While dates are good for curing constipation, consuming too many can also cause diarrhea, as it contains a lot of fiber.
Dates are high in sugar, so be careful about consuming too many too often if you don’t want frequent visits to the dentist!
Not suitable for infants
Keep dates away from babies until after the age of 1. Their teeth and tiny stomachs can’t digest the fruit, plus they can choke on them.
Toxic Wax coating
The shiny outer layer of dates is a wax coating used by companies to sell their products quickly. It can contain toxic chemicals which can cause stomach ache and adverse effects in the long run.
How to Store Dates
Dates have a long shelf life – they can last for many months. Store in an air-tight container in room temperature for months, or in the refrigerator for up to a year.
2 Popular Date Recipes
Sugarless Date Bars
- ½ cup soft dates, seeded
- ½ cup prunes, seeded
- ½ cup raisins, diced
- ½ cup walnuts, diced
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup hot water
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ½ cup margarine
- ¼ tsp salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp cinnamon powder (optional)
- ¼ tsp nutmeg (optional)
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees C, or 350 degrees F.
- Chop the dates and prunes roughly into small bits.
- In a pot, pour in the water and add dates, prunes and raisins. Let boil for 5 minutes, and then add margarine and blend the contents. Set aside to cool.
- In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, vanilla and nuts. Add the warm fruit mixture.
- Sift together the all-purpose flour, baking soda and salt, then add to the rest of the ingredients.
- For a spicy bar, add in the cinnamon and nutmeg. You may skip this step if desired.
- Transfer to a 7x11in pan and bake for around 30 minutes.
Healthy Banana and Date Cookies
- 3 bananas (ripe)
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 2 cups rolled oats
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup dates, seeded and diced
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees C, or 350 degrees F.
- With a fork, mash the bananas in a bowl. Add in the oats, dates, vanilla extract and vegetable oil. Once blended well, cover with cling film and let sit for 15—20 minutes.
- Line a pan with a cookie sheet, and use a teaspoon to drop the dough onto the tray.
- Bake for 15 minutes or until cookies turn a light golden brown.
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