Just about everyone has eaten dates at some point. From the much-loved date square, to those little styrofoam trays of beautifully arranged dried dates available during Ramadan or Christmas, dates are a well-known treat.
But have you ever eaten a fresh one?
Fresh dates are available in late summer and early fall and can most easily be found in East Asian markets or at some farmer’s markets in California. Fresh dates are reddish or yellow in color and are often hard as they are picked before they have fully ripened. They are sold by weight, still attached to a short branch.
Fresh dates can be eaten “green” or what is known at the ”kimri” stage, where they have not ripened and have the consistency of a firm apple with a slightly sweet, green flavour. They are crunchy and slightly pithy near the seed.
If allowed to ripen, however, the water in the fruit evaporates and the sugars remain and become more concentrated, fresh dates darken, become soft (although not chewy), and the flavor intensifies exponentially. This is known as the “rutab” stage. Biting into a fresh, ripe date is like eating a spoonful of honey and sunshine.
In between the kimri and rutab stages is the “khalal” stage, where the date loses its astringency and starts to soften. “Tamar” is the dried stage where the dates are firm and dark, and most of the moisture in the fruit is gone.
To ripen fresh dates, simply place them in a bowl at room temperature and let them get soft. They will brown unevenly, and you will be tempted to think they have gone bad. When the dates have lost their yellow colour and are soft to the touch, they are perfect for eating. One the dates have softened, store any uneaten ones in the refrigerator to slow the ripening process.
Dates are native to the Middle East, but are also grown in California. Only one variety grown commercially in the United States – Barhi – can be eaten at the kimri or khalal stage.
4 ounces of fresh dates have only 100 calories (as opposed to 250 calories for 4 ounces of dried dates). All dates are high in iron and potassium and are a good source of fibre.