Learn about pitted dates vs unpitted dates, and why medjool dates are so popular! From the health benefits of dates, to how to use them as a natural sweetener, to how to store them.
- What are Dates?
- What are the different types of dates?
- Medjool Dates
- Pitted VS Unpitted Dates
- How to Make Dates Softer
- Health Benefits of Dates
- Nutrition Facts of Dates
- What can you use Dates for?
- Quick & Healthy Snack
- My favorite ways to eat dates:
- Buying and Choosing Dates
- How to store dates
- Dates Overview
What are Dates?
Dates are brown, reddish, or yellow sweet fruit grown on a date palm tree (think coconut tree, but big clusters of dates). The date fruit grows in the Middle East, North Africa and some Asia countries in warm climates. Whole dates have been enjoyed thoroughly for hundreds of years for their sweet taste and nutritional value. Dates contain unprocessed natural sugars, they have caramel-like flavour, and are a chewy texture.
The best dates I’ve ever had was in the Middle East, in Oman. Our host at our Air B and B left us incredible fresh dates with tahini (sesame paste) to dip them in. Wow, those were without a doubt the freshest best dates I've ever eaten, gooey and delicious.
Try my favorite recipe with dates, dark chocolate date bark, it's a like a snicker bar but healthy!
What are the different types of dates?
Medjool is of a variety of dates, just like gala is a type of apple. Other common dates include deglet noor dates, ajwa dates, barhi dates and zahidi dates, the varieties can have different notes of toffee, butterscotch, or even chocolatey flavour. At Costco I have often bought the yellow bag of pitted deglet noor dates, they are more golden and less plumb than Medjool dates.
Why are Medjool dates so popular? Many recipes specifically call for Medjool dates. This is because they are often larger, 2-3x bigger than a 'regular' pitted date in the grocery store baking aisle. Medjool dates have a specific deep brown sugar-like taste, and they have plump luscious fruit.
Pitted VS Unpitted Dates
Pitted dates or seedless dates mean the pit is removed. Whenever consuming dates or making something with them you want to make sure the date pit is removed. From experience the pitted dates from the grocery store may have missed removing the date pit, so it’s good to double-check! I have by accident put a date in my smoothie and there were little hard chunks of pit through the whole smoothie!
Pitted dates: Consistently I find buying dates that already have the pits removed are drier and hard to chew.
Unpitted dates: Dates that contain the pits are much softer and have more date fruit. It's because the fruit has less surface area exposed to the air and it doesn't dry out.
To remove a date pit, take a sharp knife, slit it open longways (or use your fingers to break it open) and push out the pit. Often you will need to remove the little hard brown stem as well.
When buying dates at the grocery store my experience over the years is finding the unpitted plump dates in containers or boxes among the fresh produce (this is where Medjool dates are), and 'regular' dates without the pits are often in a bag in the baking aisle.
How to Make Dates Softer
Pitted dates can be quite dry and can be shrivelled. To rehydrate and soften dates that are tough all you need to do is place them in hot or warm water for 5-10 minutes, then drain the water. This will create a plump texture to the dates and make it easier to add to a recipe or enjoy the dates as a healthy snack.
Health Benefits of Dates
With a high fructose content, dates are a good source of quick energy! Because of the high fiber in date fruit eating them supports blood sugar levels. Dates have a low glycemic index making this fruit a good choice for those with diabetes or low sugar diets. Dates improve gut health and good elimination. They are high in antioxidants which will support the combat of free radicals, read more about free radicals here.
Key Nutrients of dates include Vitamins C, B1, B2, B3, B6, K, and minerals potassium, iron, magnesium, and copper. Because dates are rich in potassium, magnesium, and low in sodium they maintain a healthy blood pressure.
Nutrition Facts of Dates
These nutritional facts are referring to 2-3 Medjool dates.
54 grams of carbohydrates
5 grams of fiber
1 gram of protein
0 grams of fat
48 grams of sugar
501 mg of potassium
46 mg calcium
What can you use Dates for?
Dates are a natural sweetener and are naturally sticky which is awesome for holding things together (like nuts and seeds for raw balls). The fruit can be processed into date syrup, date sugar, date powder, and date paste. It’s a versatile ingredient. Dates can be used as an alternative to white or brown sugar, however, it can be trickier to use it 1:1 in a recipe unless you have date sugar (made from crushed dates).
Whole pitted dates are commonly found in sweet-tasting recipes like healthy caramel, energy balls, ice cream, sticky date pudding, smoothies, stuffed dates, and date bars. Dates can also be used in savoury dishes including tagine a traditional chicken Moroccan dish, or in Middle Eastern and Indian curries and rice dishes.
Quick & Healthy Snack
For a delious snack or more like a healthy treat, take a plump date (medjool dates work the best), remove the pit and replace it with a smear of almond or peanut butter! You can sprinkle nuts or chocolate chips on top of the nut butter. If you haven't tried that, go try it now!!
My favorite ways to eat dates:
Dates are amazing in protein bars or raw balls (like the pistachio date balls shown above) because they are sticky enough to hold everything together and due to there dense nutritional value. I really like adding dates to smoothies as a sweetener, if you haven't tried that before try this strawberry smoothie with dates! You will need a food processor or blender for these recipes. My favourite dates to use are unpitted Medjool dates as they have a caramel-like taste and are plump!
Many times you can substitute 'regular' dates for Medjool dates. For raw balls and energy bars, this is fine if you soak them in hot water for a few minutes first. The times I wouldn't substitute Medjool dates is for when they are the feature of the recipe, like a stuffed date because the flavour and texture are often unreplaceable - they are plump, chewy, and caramel-like.
A 'normal' date (a pitted date in the baking aisle) is often half the size of a Medjool date and less chewy, use 2-3 to replace a medjool date. If you are using a pitted dry date in replacement of a Medjool date soak them in hot water for 5 minutes before using.
You can use deglet noor dates instead of Medjool dates depending on the recipe. If it is for a recipe where the key ingredient is a Medjool date, you need a soft large date. However, you can soak a deglet noor date to make it softer and use it in a pinch. For stuffed dates I would still reccomend just getting fresh Medjool dates.
Buying and Choosing Dates
When buying dates for a recipe in North America, where I live, I often buy the Medjool unpitted dates in the produce section of the grocery store, they are soft and easy to make treats with, or to enjoy solo as a healthy snack! I also buy dates from organic matters and they have a good selection of dates including date paste and date sugar.
Choose dates that are shiny, glossy, and plump. Avoid dates that are cracked, broken, or shrivelled. If you notice little white crystals, this is NOT mold, this is sugar crystalizing, it is still fine to eat.
How to store dates
As dates have a low water content they naturally dehydrate, making them last a long time. I find pitted and unpitted dates will have a longer shelf life if kept in an airtight container, in the fridge or room temperature, in this dry place they can last 1 year or even longer. After they are in the fridge you can soften dates in warm water.
Pitted dates are harder and dried, versus dates with pits are softer and usually less dried. Medjool dates are 'the king of fruits' because they are so much bigger, softer and flavorful. Dates are a healthy sweetener, are very great for energy balls and they are nutrient dense. If you've never enjoyed dates before I reccomend buying an unpitted whole date in your produce section at the grocery store, just try it! When I’m in the Middle East or North Africa next I look forward to trying even more different varieties of fresh dates in the market!