Dates: benefits, varieties, nutritional values and where to find them

Dates: benefits, varieties, nutritional values and where to find them


Due to their ancient dating back to the Neolithic times, it is argued that date palms were the first trees to be cultivated by humans: the first evidence ever are to be found in texts and graves of Assyrian and Egyptian times (4000 B.C.).

The fruits of the date palm belong to the culinary tradition of several countries, mostly in the Middle East, where for years they have represented the main ingredient in different recipes, also thanks to their sweetness that can be easily compared to that of sugar or honey.

On the other hand, up to a few years ago in Europe the consumption of dates used to be linked to Christmas. Thanks to their numerous nutritional properties in the past few years dates have become part of the daily diet as a snack.

Let’s find out together all the secrets and features of dates.

Dried Dates

What is a dried date?

Dried dates or dry dates are fresh dates that have been dried. Dates are the fruit of the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), they present as egg-shaped berries that are 3 to 7 cm long. The word “date” is derived from the greek word δάκτυλος (which is read daktilos), i.e. finger - with reference to the shape of this fruit. The name of the species, which is derived from the word "dactylus" and the word "fero", means “date-bearing”.

Botanical aspects of dates

The date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) is a variety that originates in Northern Africa belonging to the family of Arecaceae (also known as Palmaceae). “The palm must have the head in the fire and the feet in the water” as Arabic people say. In fact, the date palm is a typical plant of the vegetation of desert oasis.

The word “date” comes from the ancient Greek δάκτυλος (dáktylos) meaning finger, with reference to the form of the fruit, while the name of the species originates from the crasis between dactylus and fero meaning “the one that bears dates". Phoenix dactylifera is not a tree, but rather a shrub with a rather thin trunk reaching up to 30 m in height, surmounted by a sparse foliage composed of a maximum of 20-30 leaves (pinnate) up to 6 metres long.

The plant begins to bear fruit in considerable quantities around its 8th year of life, reaching full maturity around the 13th year and then begins to deteriorate between the age of 80 and 100. Each tree produces about 80 to 150 kg of dates per year. It is a thermophilic plant that reaches its maximum vegetative intensity around at 30°.

Dates fruits

The date is a berry characterised by an oval-cylindrical shape, from 3 to 7 cm long. It is extremely variable in shape and dimensions. The most consistent part of the fruit is represented by the mesocarp which, depending on the species, can be pulpy or dry and fibrous. Depending on the variety, the fruits of the date can be marketed either dried or fresh.

From pollination to complete ripening of the fruit may pass about 200 days, during which the fruit goes through 4 different phases that take their name from the Arabic language:

  • Kimri: rapid increase in size, increased sugar accumulation, still high degree of acidity.
  • Khalaal: the colour changes from green to yellow/orange and dates start having a pleasant taste due to the reduction in the content of tannins.
  • Rutab: the fruit begins turning brown, it loses humidity, there is an increase in the content of sugars, it starts ripening and it becomes softer and translucent. During this phase some varieties can be sold fresh.
  • Tamr: dates are dark and soft, they have lost enough water to have a sugars/water ratio enough high to prevent fermentation. During this stage the dates have a humidity percentage of about 24% and can be stocked for a year at room temperature.

Production and processing of dates

The processing of dates can be divided in different stages:

  • In desert oasis the harvest of fresh dates can be carried out in different moments of the year: in September/October the selection is done directly on the plant and the pickers climb the plants with ropes and rudimentary tools to select the fruits before they fall to the ground, while in October/November the selection takes place on the ground, where the whole bunches are detached and the fruits are divided. In more industrialised countries, harvesting is carried out with the help of mechanised platforms that make these operations faster and safer.
  • Drying phase: the watery content recommended for the conservation of dates amounts to 23%. For this reason, once harvested dates are exposed to the sun and continuously moved by hand until they reach the perfect humidity level. Dried dates can be stocked at room temperature for a long period of time.
  • Dates are then washed (this operation may also be carried out at a later stage before dates being placed on the market) and dates are stocked in cold-storage rooms while waiting to be processed.
  • Depending on the weight, dates are then divided in different calibres. The calibration may be carried out by hand or by means of the most advanced systems.
  • The packing differs on the basis of the origin, the variety and the type of processing carried out on the date. Sometimes sugars or glucose syrup may be added to dates to provide a sort of glazing (it usually happens for the more little and less “tasty” varieties”).

Producing countries and varieties of dates

Besides Arabia and the Persian Gulf, date palms are also cultivated in the Canary Islands, in the northern part of the Mediterranean area and in the south of USA (especially in California). The main producing and exporting countries for what concerns dates at a global level are Egypt, Israel, Libya and Tunisia.

In Israel the producing area extends from the Aqaba Gulf to the Sea of Galilee and comprehends different varieties:

  • the Medjool date, which is typical for the area of the Jordan river, famous for its incredible sweetness, softness and juiciness. It has remarkable dimensions (each date weights between 15 and 23g) and is available on the market from October until the end of March.
  • the Deglet Nour date is the most common variety and is particularly appreciated for its flavour resembling to honey. Its name means “date of the light” or “fruit of the shining light”, it has a translucent skin and a colour ranging from light brown to dark brown. The dimensions are smaller with respect to the Medjoul date (8-11g) and it can be found on the market all year around.

Further varieties are the Hadrawi (the first date that ripens), Barhi (consumed mainly fresh), Hayani, Amari (similar to Medjoul dates), Halawi (among the most sold), Deri and Zahidi.

Nutritional values of dates

Dates are very rich in sugars and represent a perfect snack when in need of energy.

Date fibres help normalising cholesterol levels in the blood, they are a valuable ally against constipation and, in addition to this, they help prolonging the characteristic sense of satiety that makes them a great meal breaker.

The fruit of the date palm contains different minerals: among these are magnesium and potassium that are useful for the reduction of the sense of tiredness, as well as zinc, copper, manganese and selenium that are perfect for the reintegration of mineral salts, recommended for those practising sport and teenagers.

Did you know?

The date was considered a symbol of fertility by Persians, while Greeks and Latins used the leaves of the date plant as an ornament in triumphal celebrations. Romans, in fact, attributed to this plant symbology of honour and victory because, although burdened by the weight of its fruits, it did not bend but rather desperately tried to rise upwards, so it was used to donate a date palm branch to the great actors, charioteers and gladiators.

The Legenda Aurea written by Jacopo da Varagine, taken from the apocryphal gospel of Matthew, narrates the episode of the palm tree that, during the flight to Egypt, bowed so that Mary and Joseph could pick the dates to feed themselves. In Christian times this plant then took on the meaning of martyrdom and resurrection: this symbolism is associated with Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, during what would later become "Palm Sunday" or the Sunday before Christian Easter, and the representation of the palm is often associated with Christ's monogram.

According to Muslim tradition, the date is the paradise fruit, a miracle fruit for its numerous nutritional properties.

Where to buy dates online?

Discover all varieties of dry dates on the online shop for true lovers of nuts and dried fruit with no added salt and sugar.

Our selection of dates:


Nutspaper – periodical on nuts; 2/2012: Datteri – energia e dolcezza dal frutto più antico del mondo. (Dates - energy and sweetness from the oldest fruit in the world.)

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