Dates grow on trees. Great big trees called “date palms,” actually. They’re native to the Middle East and have been a part of the region’s cuisine for thousands of years. Dates grow in large clusters, kind of like bunches of grapes, which hang higher than fifty feet off the ground.

Dates are chewy with a sweet flavor. The sugar content in dates is extremely high, and that sugar gets more and more intense as dates dry and moisture leaves the fruit. But dates aren’t dried or dehydrated completely, even though the wrinkled appearance might lead you to believe they are. If you had to compare a date to another fruit, it would essentially be comparable to a bigger, jammier, more caramel-y raisin.

Depending on the variety, fresh dates are fairly small in size and range in colour from bright red to bright yellow. Medjool and Deglet Noor dates are the most commonly consumed varieties. Date sugar is rich in fibre and has a thickening effect when used in cooking as healthy sweetener alternatives that may be used in place of processed sugars.

Dates provide a good source of fibre, phytonutrients, and antioxidants. They contain more vitamins and minerals compared to other common fruits and are considered a rich source of dietary minerals. In addition, dates are one of the highest ranked sources of potassium, coming in at number five when compared to all potassium food sources.

Dates contain several types of antioxidants that may help prevent the development of certain chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. They contain several minerals, including phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium. All of these have been studied for their potential to prevent bone-related conditions like osteoporosis

Egypt is the world leader in date production and cultivation. Just over half, 53%, of exported Egyptian dates are imported by Morocco, this is followed by Indonesia (24%) and Malaysia (15%). Following Egypt, Iran produces 947,809 metric tons annually. Despite this large production rate, it only accounts for approximately 7.7% of total world exports. The majority of Iran’s date exports go to Asian countries like India, Malaysia and Russia. Saudi Arabia is The third largest producer of dates, which has perfect conditions for date growth and cultivation. 

Date palms require arid and semi-arid conditions in places with long, hot summers and little to no rainfall for growth. In an agricultural setting, the roots are kept clear of grass and weeds that might hold in humidity and a small trench is dug around the base of the tree. This trench is filled with water so that it may go directly to the roots. When the fruit begins to form on long strands, agricultural workers remove the majority of the fruits to allow the remaining dates to grow to large sizes. 

Eat dates as a sweet snack, or chop them up and scatter them onto cereal in place of sugar or honey. Chopped up they can also be added to cakes, biscuits and desserts. They’re delicious served with cheese or as an after-dinner treat, stuffed with a whole almond and rolled in icing sugar. North African cuisine makes varied use of dates, notably in tagines and sweet couscous dishes.