With thousands of different varieties of dates available, it can be a little overwhelming to know where to start! Here’s a little crash course on everything you need to know about dates…
Dates are one of the oldest cultivated fruits, grown primarily in the Middle East and Northern Africa. They thrive in the hotter climates and a mature date palm can produce over 100kg of dates per harvest season. Dates not only provide a quick energy boost with their natural sugars but also contain a multitude of beneficial properties, from their high fibre content to essential minerals. This makes them the perfect way to break your fast in Ramadan. Not only can they be eaten plain, but they can be used in many creative ways in cooking. Why not try using some as an ingredient in baking, smoothies, jams and chutneys?
They are classified by their moisture content:
Hard dates – Dry and fibrous, with a hard outer flesh. Nicknamed camel dates/ bread dates for these properties. E.g. Thoory and Yellow Barhi.
Semi-soft dates – Aromatic, soft and chewy with a firm flesh and low moisture content. E.g. Dayri and Deglet Noor.
Soft dates – Moist, pliable, soft and often quite wrinkly. Popular here in the UK. E.g. Medjool, Halawi and Khadrawy.
They are often also described by their level of ripeness in Arabic terms: transitioning from Kimri (unripe), to Khalal (yellow, crunchy, ripened but still somewhat astringent), to Bisr (when the colour begins to change and the sugars develop), to Rutab (softening and turning brown and with a high water content) and finally Tamar (fully ripe, cured, ready for packing.)
Some of the most common varieties include:
These are considered the king of the date world with their succulent honey sweet flesh and almost caramel like taste.
Deglet Noor dates
Translates as the ‘date of light.’ Common in supermarkets, with a sweet and slightly nutty flavour, these semi-dry dates have a translucent flesh.
Sweeter than most dates (in fact, ‘sweet’ is the direct translation!) and sticky texture, these dates have a melt in the mouth, caramel resemblance.
Dry, sweet and nutty flavoured. They have a hard texture which is best utilised for baking, simply soak them in hot water, remove pits and chop before adding to your batter / dough mix.
Dark brown to black in colour, sweet, very tender and slightly chewy with earthy, spicy notes. Some compare this variety to the highly popular medjool date.
Yellow barhi dates
Crunchy, slightly sweet and slightly astringent. These dates can also be left at room temperature with ventilation to ripen/soften.
A very gooey, slightly sweet, milder variety with a high moisture content. With their mahogany coloured outer and melty, creamy texture, these are ideal for smoothies and sauces.
With their mild flavour, these are often enjoyed by those who don’t enjoy the alternative, richer varieties. Typically have a golden yellow flesh, and thus, have been dubbed, ‘butter dates.’