What's the Deal with Dates?

Dates look like they're dried, but they're often found in the produce section and need to be refrigerated. Dates taste like they've been soaked in a barrel of sugar, yet no other ingredients are listed on the package. What's the deal?!

Dates are tropical stone-fruits that come from the date palm tree. Ripening happens in four stages: unripe, crunchy, soft, and sun-dried. The dates will keep hanging on the tree until the final stage, but they're often harvested earlier for a more controlled drying process.

Although dates are dried, they're not usually fully dehydrated like the dried cranberries and apricots we buy in the store. They still contain a fair bit of moisture, which is why they need to be kept in a cool place or refrigerated.

Dates are naturally very high in sugar, and as they dry, the sugars become even more concentrated. These fruits definitely don't need any more sugar added! In our opinion, they taste like a cross between a fig and a prune.

Because they're so naturally sweet, dates are an obvious choice for a lot of sweet preparations. They're excellent in cookies, coffee cakes, and quick breads. We also like them in our morning oatmeal!

They can also make a nice contrast in savory preparations like curries or braises, and we often add them to pilafs and salads. And of course, dates stuffed with goat cheese and nuts are one of our favorite, most irresistible appetizers.

Here are a few of our favorite recipes for using dates:

Rice and Mixed Green Salad with Dates, Cashews, and Chickpeas
Asian Pear, Fresh Date, and Pomegranate Salad
Juno's Pregnant Dates
Sunflower Date Cookies
Sticky Toffee Cakelets
Steel Cut Oats with Dates, Coconut, Cinnamon, and Pecans

What are yours?

Related: Farmer's Market Report: Fresh Dates

(Image: Flickr member H-bomb licensed under Creative Commons)