Dates are one of the oldest cultivated fruits – it’s thought that they were a staple part of the Babylonian diet 8,000 years ago. Grown in North Africa and Israel, there are several varieties, but only a handful are exported to Britain.
Colours range from honey yellow, red to brown, the last of which is the most common.
Available fresh or dried, they’re very sweet, with a rich, deep flavour and a lush, slightly chewy texture. The mahogany brown Medjool variety is the sweetest, and tastes a little like toffee.
Dried and fresh dates are available the whole year round, but the fresh type are best around November to January.
Choose the best
Fresh dates should be plump and moist with glossy skins. Dried dates, though a little wrinkly, shouldn’t look emaciated, and should still be plump and glossy, with an even colour. They are sold whole, packaged in long narrow boxes, or pressed into blocks.
Dried dates are ready to use straight away – just slice off from the block or pick as many of you need from the box, but you can also soak them in a liquid like tea or various types of alcohol, to boost flavour and moisture.
To remove the stone from a fresh date, just push it out with your fingers, or slit open lengthways, remove, and push the flesh closed again. To remove the skin, pull off the stem, then pinch at one end to push the flesh out.
Fresh dates will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for around a week. Dried dates stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place will keep for up to a year.