Do you regularly eat dates? If not, you maybe should! They are amazing little fruits. Tasty sweet and healthy. Now that Ramadan approaches many Muslim families stock up on dates and will serve them every day with the fast-breaking menu of Iftar.
Dates are considered a blessed food in many countries and they are the first thing people eat after a day of fasting to recharge. They are a traditional gift or people serve them on a feast. In fact, they contain a lot of nutrients. Among vegetarian foods, they are the ones that contain a significant amount of iron, too.
Dates as super food
We hear a lot about functional food and super food. But we do not need expensive mixtures, pills, or drinks. Dates literally do grow on trees. Date palms are mentioned in scripture, Bible and Quran, and they are among the earliest plants that have been cultivated. They have probably been around since the first days of Man and they serve him well. The little palm fruits are full of nutrients. Research shows that dates and date extracts exhibit anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antitumor and antioxidative features. (Yes, here talks the PhD in me, though now WAHMom.)
Also, they contain a lot of β-Glucan. This herbal fiber is in many plants and some bacteria. Some human immune system cells interact with β-Glucan and researchers found it in many different human tissues where it is supposed to activate the immune system. (If you want a boost in β-Glucan eat lots of oats as they have the most!)
So, now you see why people consider dates a blessed food despite their high content of sugar.
What else comes with dates?
Dates contain fiber, vitamins and potassium. Potassium can be beneficial for heart and blood pressure. Other nutrients are magnesium, calcium and the amino acid tryptophane. Dates have twice as much tryptophane as bananas. But dates also contain a lot of energy and sugar. So consume them mindfully.
In what form do dates come?
Usually, you find fresh and dried dates in the store. Dried ones are sometimes candied or coated with sugar syrup. Fresh dates are harder to find and usually need refrigeration. Use fresh dates soon. The best dates I have ever tried were Iranian ones I found in a store for Persian food. They were big and juicy. Great to eat pure or in muesli. And of course, the shop owner was absolutely positive that Iranian dates are the best in the world.
In Morocco, you have a lot of dates to choose from. Most of them are dried but not sugar-coated or something. In Germany, I like the dates of Aldi best. They are dried, pitted and not very expensive. But we have not many options to choose from, anyway. Some fruit stores or delicatessen stores offer fresh dates, though.
What do I do with dates?
I have to admit that I rarely ate dates before I met my husband. Or maybe “accidently” ate some dates that were in cereals or bakery goods. But in Morocco, you find them on the Ramadan table each day and Muslims eat one or three to break their fast. There are also sweet recipes using dates. (See below)
Dates in bacon or Spanish Dátiles con bacon, (in German Datteln im Speckmantel) are a popular tapas or appetizer.
10 Ways to use dates
- Make delicious date filled sweet treats. In the Middle East, there is a date stuffing for cookies which are very tasteful! These maamoul cookies are popular for feasts. They look best if you have a special mould to prepare them but it works without mould, too. See this post of Amanda’s Plate where she shares her family recipe for Maamoul. Sometimes you find something similar in Northern Africa, too. They prepare a paste of dates to fill cookies or pancakes or pan bread like Harsha made from semolina.
- Make your smoothie more nutritious naturally. Dates are perfect for healthy and nutritious smoothies, too. Add two or three to your favorite fruit smoothie but remember they will add some sweetness. In our home dates are part of the nutritious Ramadan smoothies.
- Homemade date variations and pralines. If you want to pimp dates the easy way stuff a pitted date with an almond, a piece of marzipan or cream cheese frosting. If you want to get fancy cover a date with chocolate after stuffing. Voila, a date medley for your Iftar table in Ramadan or easy dessert that quenches any sweet ravenous appetite.
- Date gift bag. For festive occasions, people give away dates. Simply put some dates in a gift bag and bring them to an invitation.
- Substitute sugar. Dates or paste of dates is a healthier substitute for sugar. In contrast to normal nutrient-poor (or empty) sugar, they deliver a lot of nutrients! That makes them a healthy alternative to sugar because they are almost just as sweet.
- Boost energy and prevent low blood sugar levels. If you like me struggle with low blood sugar levels sometimes take a few dates with you in your snack box. They will raise your blood sugar level quickly and keep you energized thanks to a high content of fiber. But remember to eat a proper meal later.
- Put them into salads and cereals. Pieces of dried dates can be put into many salads and of course, they are excellent for cereals and muesli.
- Baking ingredient. Dried dates make perfect baking ingredients and can be stored (in a dry and cool place) up to one year. Perfect for Ninja Baking to bake anytime you want.
- Relieve bowel irritation. A few dates are a traditional and safe way to help with mild diarrhea or constipation. Their high content of fiber helps.
- Ameliorate your health. Dates can help to protect your heart and blood vessels. Some studies show that dates can lower the “bad” cholesterol level.
So, now we have talked about how awesome dates are, will you be using dates more? And how will you use them? Let me know about fresh ideas.