“The Messenger of Allah (Peace Be Upon Him) used to break his fast on some ripe dates, and if he did not have any, on dry dates. Otherwise, if he did not have dry dates, he would have several sips of water.”
Dates are one of the best known Middle Eastern fruits. They are famous for their sweet taste and caramel-like chewy texture, and are most commonly grown in arid and dry regions—the optimal climate for the fruits to ripen. Currently, Saudi Arabia is the largest producer of date palm trees, growing around 600 different types of dates and accounting for 60 percent of date production worldwide.
Why Are Dates So Special?
Dates come in many different types, shapes and textures. They have been a part of many traditions and cultures, and have roles in special ceremonies in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Here are some varieties of dates you may find in stores or at farmers’ markets.
- Barhi dates: Named after the hot Arabic winds called “Barh,” these dates are medium-sized, thin-skinned fruit with soft, tender flesh and a syrupy flavor
- Deglet Noor dates: A semi-soft date, Deglet Noor is the variety most often available and accounts for 95 percent of US production. It has firm flesh and its color ranges from light red to amber.
- Hallawy dates: These soft dates are thick-fleshed, caramel-like, and sweet. They have wrinkled skin that is yellow to amber in color.
- Khadrawy dates: Similar to the Hallawys, these soft dates have a caramel-like texture and flavor.
- Khalas Dates: Average-sized and reddish dark brown in color, Khalas dates are moist and sticky, have a hearty flavor and a butter-caramel taste.
- Sheeshe Dates: These are yellow and light brown and have a thick skin. Slightly dry in texture, they have a subtle flavor and are perfect for those of you who don’t like things too sweet.
- Ajwa Dates: These are usually dark in color and fairly dry. Referring to eating seven Ajwa dates, the prophet Mohammed (SAW) said, “He will not be harmed by anything until he reaches the evening.” [Sahih Muslim (2047)]
These fruits are significant among Muslims all over the world during Ramadan as a staple for breaking their fast. While they have traditionally been considered beneficial, an increasing number of studies confirms the many healthful properties of dates, with some types providing more distinct benefits than others.
One of the factors which makes dates the perfect fruit to eat on an empty stomach is that they are easily digested. This allows the body to absorb the fruits’ nutrients, such as:
- Iron: beneficial for red blood cells.
- Potassium: helps control heart rate and blood pressure.
- Vitamin A: beneficial for the eyes, skin and mucus membranes, and protects the lungs and mouth from cancer.
- Vitamin K: helps with blood clotting and strengthens bones.
- Tannin: antioxidant which helps fight infections and has anti-hemorrhagic properties.
- Other minerals such as copper, riboflavin and magnesium which are essential for optimum health.
Dates are a good source of carbohydrates, immediately giving plenty of energy with their high content of fructose. However, despite being high in sugar, research has shown that consuming dates has no significant effect on blood sugar level. A recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry finds that dates could also protect against heart disease. It concluded that “Date consumption (and mainly the Hallawy variety) by healthy subjects, despite their high sugar content, demonstrates beneficial effects on serum triacylglycerol and oxidative stress and does not worsen serum glucose and lipid/lipoprotein patterns, and thus can be considered an antiatherogenic nutrient.” Moreover, the fiber they contain helps make you feel full faster, which makes dates an ideal iftar snack! Dates also contain high quantities of antioxidants, which are known to protect against chronic diseases such as cancer. In addition, dates can be a delicious alternative sweetener to sugar.
Want a fast, healthy treat? Why not make these tasty date truffles?
Pecan & Date Truffles
1/3 cup chopped dates (pitted)
1/3 cup raw pecans
2 tbsp raw almond butter
1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla powder
2 tbsp date syrup or honey
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
Shredded coconut or ground nuts of your choice for coating the truffles
Soak the dates in water for around 10 minutes, then drain.
Add the pecans to the food processor and pulse until roughly broken down.
Add the dates and remaining ingredients and blend until combined – the mixture should be crumbly but sticky.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl.
Spoon out around a tablespoon at the time and roll into bite sized balls. Roll each ball in the coating of your choice and place onto a parchment lined baking tray. (Tip: rubbing a little coconut oil into your hands will help stop the mixture from sticking)
Place in the refrigerator and chill for 30 minutes.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for a week. (but they probably won’t last that long!)