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Fresh dates “are so remarkably luscious that there would be no end to eating them, were it not for fear of the dangerous consequences that would be sure to ensue” noted Pliny the Elder long ago. In moderation however, they make the perfect snack and they bring moist deliciousness to fruit breads, cakes, cookies, muffins, stuffing, crumble toppings, salads or combined with meats in tagines (try lamb and dates). And there’s more, there’s thick, sticky date syrup enjoyed as a sweetener for thousands of years in the Middle East and North Africa drizzled over tahini or yogurt.

Food skills: shopping. Fresh or soft dates such as the large plump fleshy Medjool dates with their chewy toffee-like taste are sold loose and prepacked and are delicious in salads, desserts and for a treat instead of chocolate (they tend to be pricy but worth it). They should be plump and moist with glossy skins. When buying packaged dates, check the use-by or best-before date.

Dried dates, though a little wrinkly, shouldn’t look withered, and should still be plump and glossy, with an even colour. Avoid those with crystallised sugar on their skins as this means they are not quite as fresh as you might like. Unpitted dates will have better flavour than pitted as they stay moister. If using pitted dates check as you chop as there can sometimes be traces of stones (also called pits).

Food skills: storing. Fresh or dried, dates keep well for a few months in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. They also freeze very well. They will continue to dry out and their sugars will slowly come to the surface creating white sugar spots. Freezing prevents this.

Food skills: what’s in them. Dates are sweet, so it’s not surprising to learn they contain 70% sugars: a varying combination of sucrose, fructose and glucose, depending on the variety of date. They are high in fibre and also contain vitamins A, thiamine, niacin and riboflavin, and some iron, magnesium, calcium and potassium. They also contain a fair bit of sorbitol (a sugar alcohol or polyol) and that’s what makes them excellent for promoting bowel regularity, although those with an irritable bowel and sensitive to FODMAPS (certain sugars that can be poorly absorbed by the body) may want to give them a miss. The rest of us can make a date with dates over this holiday season.

Honey nutrition facts
Source: The Good Carbs Cookbook