When asked: ‘do you like dates?’ what do you think of? A candlelit dinner, two people sharing a bottle of wine. Perhaps a cozy movie night snuggled up to your partner. In this case, who doesn’t like dates? No, we’re not here today to discuss ideal romantic evenings; though that might be a great conversation piece, we’re here to talk about food! Specifically, fruit!
So, do you like dates?
If you’ve never had one, you may think that a date is just a larger raisin-type; a dehydrated fruit that is sweet and gummy. While you’re not entirely incorrect, there’s more to dates than meets the eye. These sweet little fruits can be deceiving in their sweetness; it sometimes seems as if the processing of these tasty snacks includes dipping them in sugar before they make it to the grocery store.
Today, we’re here to debunk that myth: are dates dipped in sugar syrup? No. It only seems that way because they are covered in their own natural sugars.
What Are Dates?
A date is a small, sticky-sweet fruit that grows on trees and originates from North Africa and the Middle East. Dates grow in large clusters, like grapes, but at the tops of trees called date palms. They are generally produced in large orchards, like other fruits, though at first glance, you may think you’re looking at a grove of regular palm trees.
When picked right off the trees, dates are sweet to taste, a caramel-honey-like flavor. The sugar levels in a date are naturally extremely high, and those levels increase more and more as the fruit is dehydrated.
There are many different varieties of dates, such as Dayri, Barhi, or Medjool, each with their own flavor profiles, though sometimes the grocery store labels them as “dates,” so you may not know which type you’re buying if you’re unfamiliar with them.
While you’re perusing the various options, buy dates that aren’t overly dried. The date skin should have minimal rips and tears, and be a little translucent. The dates should be intact and separate, not mashed into a clump, and they should have a nice shine.
Each date also has a pit that you’ll want to remove before cooking. Dates can be used in nearly anything from salads and appetizers to main courses, sauces, and desserts.
The harvesting process also varies with the different types of dates, which can be consumed ripe or unripe. For Barhi dates, harvesting season is generally August to mid-September for unripe, and mid-October through November for the ripe fruit. Conversely, for Medjool dates, harvesting season is mid-September through October, and these dates are generally only consumed when fully ripened.
How Dates Are Processed
So, what’s the secret? Are dates naturally sweet, or are there some artificial sweeteners quietly added somewhere in the process? How do they taste so sweet? Are dates dipped in sugar syrup?
When harvested fresh and ripe, most dates have wrinkly skin and are soft to the touch. A common misconception about dates is that they are dehydrated before being packaged, distributed, and sold.
Dates are dried. The difference is that drying the dates allows some moisture to remain in the fruit while dehydrating removes it completely.
A reach lift is used to access the dates at the tops of the palms. The method of harvesting dates is very tedious and requires a lot of care and attention. The clusters are harvested using a machete and weigh up to 45 pounds! That’s a lot of dates per cluster!
After harvesting, dates are sorted in the field or a separate packing house. The packaging procedure depends more on the customer buying the dates and how the grower sells them; the difference is whether the customer wants the dates still on the vine or individualized and washed.
Regardless of what the customer prefers, there are no additives in the date-harvesting process.
The reality is that the only “processing” that happens with dates is the natural drying out that occurs when left on their trees for an extended time.
Are Dates Dipped in Sugar Syrup?
It’s important to mention that dates are sweet today because they have been selectively bred to increase their sweetness, just like bananas.
While there are dates on the market that have had artificial sweeteners added, we’re discussing those that are naturally sweet.
As we mentioned, the naturally occurring sugar levels in a date are incredibly high, and those levels increase more and more as the fruit is dehydrated. This is the main reason why dates are so sweet.
Fresh dates are not as sweet as dried dates because the drying causes the sugar level ratio to rise as the moisture leaves the fruit and the fruit begins to shrink in size. The actual sugar levels stay the same, but this causes the sweetness to appear more concentrated.
One way to tell an artificially sweetened date from a naturally sweet one is that artificially sweetened dates will be overly sweet or taste sweet on the outside of the fruit as well. If the outside of a date is sweet or sticky, it has likely been dipped in a glaze; this is not naturally occurring.
As dates dry out, the natural sugars in the fruit crystallize, but that sweet caramel-honey flavor will be mainly on the inside of the fruit.
Are dates dipped in sugar syrup? All in all, naturally occurring dates do not have added sugars. They are dried, harvested, and brought to market with no artificial sweeteners or added sugar syrups – they are naturally sweet fruits.
Dates are high in antioxidants and contain several vitamins and minerals. Because they are dried fruit, they are higher in calories. They are high in fiber and promote brain health and natural labor. Dates are an excellent natural sweetener and have other potential benefits like bone health and blood sugar control.
They also have a lot of nutritional value, as described by healthline.com. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving provides the following nutrients:
- Calories: 277
- Carbs: 75 grams
- Fiber: 7 grams
- Protein: 2 grams
- Potassium: 20% of the regular daily intake (RDI)
- Magnesium: 14% RDI
- Copper: 18% RDI
- Manganese: 15% RDI
- Iron: 5% RDI
- Vitamin B6: 12% RDI
Try adding them to your salads entrees, or make a dessert! Don’t forget to send us the recipe!