In the car with my brother for several hours last weekend, we got into a rather confusing debate about what exactly a date is. Just to clear things up, we weren’t discussing the engagement you and your spouse enjoyed on Valentine’s Day last night or the point on the calendar in which the ground beef in your refrigerator is going to expire. We were talking about the shrivel-y fruit that sort of resembles a raisin crossed with a prune, only more red in color and much sweeter.
Our discussion actually began with bacon (don’t all good discussions start with bacon?), and all of the foods you can wrap bacon around – think deliciously-wrapped green bean bundles, potatoes, chicken – and I mentioned that there was a Farm Flavor recipe for bacon-wrapped dates. My brother interrupts our bacon-wrapped discussion by saying, “What exactly is a date, again?”
“Well,” I began haughtily, “A date is …”
Hmm. Did I actually know what a date is?
“It’s a fruit. I think. Yes, a dried fruit maybe?”
“Like a raisin?” my brother wanted to know. And thus began our great date debate. Thank goodness for Google and smartphones, because we had our answer just a few miles down the road.
Yes, dates are fruits. In fact, they are among the most ancient of fruits, growing along the Nile as early as the 5th century B.C. They’re very sweet, and while they may have more calories than many fruits, they are packed with other health benefits. Dates are sodium-free, fat-free, cholesterol-free, and a good source of fiber. They are an excellent source of potassium and provide numerous other important vitamins.
When my brother and I arrived home, we had to stop at the local grocery store for some dates. And in case your curiosity is as peaked as ours was, here’s a little of what we learned:
Most grocery stores stock fresh dates in the produce section and keep dried dates near raisins. For both types, look for plump fruit with unbroken, smoothly wrinkled skins. Avoid dates that smell bad or have hardened sugar crystals on their skins.
Packaged dates are available pitted, unpitted, or chopped. Dried dates keep for up to a year in the refrigerator. Fresh dates should be refrigerated in tightly sealed containers; they’ll keep up to eight months. If stored in the kitchen cabinet, they’ll stay fresh for about a month.