Dried dates are dates that have been lightly heated for many hours to remove their moisture and prevent spoilage. The fruits may be sun-dried or dried in a dehydrator or oven. They are very sweet when fresh and even sweeter when dried. The drying process condenses the flesh and sugars in the fruit, giving them a very intense sweetness. Dried dates are often used in place of sugar in vegan, vegetarian, and raw food recipes.
Before they’re dried, dates are typically plump, shiny, ovoid fruits that grow in bunches from date trees. They can be either dark purple or bright red and contain a large central pit with pointed ends. This is usually removed before the fruit is dried, serving two purposes. The first is to make the fruit easier to eat and cook with once dried. The second reason is to create a small tunnel in the center of the date through which air can flow. This helps the dates to dry out evenly.
Home cooks interested in drying their own date crop, or preserving fresh dates from the grocery store, may do it in one of two ways. Both methods require the cook to pit the dates first, which may be done by pushing a knife through the center of each date or pitting them with a cherry pitter. Some may prefer to slice the dates in half and remove the pit that way.
The first method, sun-drying, may only be done in the summer. Cooks making sun-dried dates need a solar dehydrator. These usually consist of a box with a glass top and screened sides and bottom. A reflective plate a few inches below the screened bottom of the box reflects heat onto the dates. Solar drying requires several days in a row of bright sun and very warm weather.
The second method requires little more than an electric dehydrator or an oven. The dates are typically spread out onto trays and warmed at about 180°F (about 82°C) for up to 24 hours. Unlike other dried fruits, dried dates are so full of sugars that they won’t shrink much or get crispy. When fully dried, they’ll be wrinkly, brown, and very dense. Biting into a fully dried date should typically feel like biting into a ripe banana or a very dense cookie.
Many recipes exist for cooking with dried dates. Some of the simplest include injecting them with sweetened or herbed goat cheese and wrapping them in prosciutto. Others call for the dates to be chopped an added to cookie, cake, brownie, and even pancake batters. Gourmet ice creams, chutneys, and Mediterranean stews can also benefit from chopped, dried dates.
Fresh Dates vs Dried Dates
Dates come from
trees and grow in many different varieties around the world. Whether fresh or dried, dates are a common addition to many recipes.
Fresh dates grow in large bunches on the date palm trees. Typically, they are either a dark purple, yellow, or a crimson red color when fresh on the tree. Fresh dates are usually sold on sticks or the stems of the plant itself. The pit of a date is long and hard with two pithy and pointed ends.
Fresh dates are not as sweet as dried dates, and fresh dates can be hard to chew, gritty, and even crunchy, depending on their ripeness level. Nevertheless, people eat fresh dates for their high fiber content and iron, niacin, and potassium.
People are more familiar with the dried form of the date that is more readily available in grocery stores and have a longer shelf life, sometimes even upwards of 12 months or longer. Dried dates often appear a dark, rich brown color when dried, and they can also take on golden or reddish hues, depending on the specific variety of dates.
Dried dates are much sweeter than fresh dates. The sugars condense and crystallize as the dates dry, whether by the sun or artificially produced heat, such as an oven or a dehydrator. Because dates are so full of sugar, they hardly shrink and lose very little of their shape; dates appear only as a wrinkly, darker version of their former self.
Pits or No Pits
You can purchase dried dates with the pit intact or removed; many producers remove it when drying because it speeds up the drying process. Air is better able to circulate when the date is opened, and the pit is removed. Buying dates without the pit also saves you time. Removing pits from dates can be a very sticky job; almost every recipe calls for the date to be pitted before cooking.
What Is a Date Food?
A date is in the same food category as olives or mangoes, known as stone fruits. Stone fruits have a soft fleshy outside when ripe, and, on the inside, they have a single large pit. Dates also have the lowest moisture content of any fruit; they ring in at only 30%, which means they are shelf stable for longer than other dried foods. Likely for this reason and the delicious sweetness, dates have been eaten for thousands of years, both fresh and dried. Currently, Egypt is the largest producer of dates in the world though dates are also produced heavily in the following places:
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
Are Dried Dates Good for You?
It’s no secret that dried dates are a sweet treat. However, the sugary sweetness of the date doesn’t come from an artificial source, so what does that mean for the nutritional content? It’s a mixed bag. The sugar count in one date is near 20 grams and is mainly composed of glucose and fructose. Dates are listed as a cautionary food for people who have to monitor their sugar intake for health reasons.
In terms of fiber and vitamins, and minerals, however, dates are a win. Dried dates also contain health benefitting compounds known as polyphenols; polyphenols are micronutrients that help fight illness and disease. Polyphenols are also high in antioxidants that help your body build and maintain a healthy immune system.
Easy Recipes With Dried Dates
Dried dates are classically considered a dessert treat, but many people find their intense sweetness more palatable when combined with a savory counterpart. Consider these easy recipes that include dried dates with balanced flavors.
Dried Dates with Goat Cheese
- 20 dried dates
- 10 oz. local goat cheese
- ½ c. za’atar seasoning for garnish
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit
- Line baking pan with parchment and set aside
- Stuff each date with a tablespoon of goat cheese
- Place on the baking pan
- Bake five to eight minutes
- Observe as dates and goat cheese can scorch
- Remove from oven
- Drizzle with warm olive oil
- Sprinkle with za’atar and serve
Bacon-Wrapped Dried Dates
- One pack of regular cut bacon
- 24 dates
- 24 toothpicks
- Fresh ground pepper for garnish
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Unwrap pack of bacon and cut in half so that you have 24 short pieces
- Wrap each date around with a short piece of bacon and secure it with a toothpick
- Place on the baking tray
- Bake for 10 to 15 minutes
- Observe as bacon and date will scorch
- Remove from oven
- Remove from pan and let drain on paper towel
- Let cool and serve warm