Dates have a long and impressive history resulting from their nutritional value and their handiness. Referred to as “travelers’ food,” dates continue to be the ideal food for long trips or a lifestyle on the go.
In past times, journeys were long and arduous, taking up to months at a time. The sheer length of time required to reach one’s destination demanded a food source that not only provided nutrition, but also stood the test of time. With their long shelf life (lasting a month or longer) and nutrient rich benefits, dates became the quintessential “travelers’ food.”
Today, we are engulfed in a mobile society. We are constantly on the move, whether it be from business meetings, to soccer practices, or from class to class. The rapid pace of our lives requires us to constantly bring food with us. Just as our predecessors sought dates for their dependability, the superfruit is as invaluable for a modern life on the go.
The Shelf Life of Dates
We dry fruits to preserve them and extend their shelf life. However, although dates are considered a dry fruit, they are not a dried fruit. The crinkling brown skin of a date may lead some to believe that they are dried, but dates actually grow with the lowest amount of moisture of any fruit naturally. The low moisture content of dates accounts for their tremendous shelf life, which extends from 6 months to a year.
Dates grow with a moisture content of less than 30%, while most fruits have a moisture level of over 75% and are then dried (often with added sugars). For example, a grape is around 80% moisture and is then dried into a raisin with less than 30% moisture. Similarly, plums are more than 80% moisture and have less than 30% moisture after drying. Lastly, figs contain anywhere from 75 to 80% moisture and can have less than 30% moisture after being dried.
As the only dry fruit in nature, the low moisture content of dates prolongs their shelf life, but also helps avoid processing that all other fruits must undergo.
The Golden Source
When biting into your delicious and energy-giving date, you may wonder what makes this bundle of caramel flavored joy so resilient. Much of dates’ strength comes from how and where they are grown.
In order to flourish, dates thrive in a harsh desert environment with temperatures that exceed 100° F over 100 days a year. It is these dry conditions that enable dates to be the lowest moisture fruit. The microbes that make fruit spoil need m
ore moisture than what is found in dates, allowing the fruit to stay fresher longer (and giving us a convenient and enduring snack). In fact, the majority of dates in the United States are grown in California’s Coachella Valley, the epitome of a desert environment.
In order to keep your dates in “travelling” condition, it is important to store them properly. Dates should be stored in an airtight container. If placed in the refrigerator, they can last up to 6 months. If placed in the freezer, they will last up to one year.
If your dates do dry out (they will feel hard), you can rehydrate them. There are several ways to rehydrate: steaming, soaking, or sprinkling on water and microwaving the dates for 8 seconds.
Dates are unique in that they do no need to be dried to last. However, they can be further dried to 18% moisture. This is most often performed when the dates will be chopped to make industrial products.
So the next time you’re running out the door to that meeting or in need of a quick, yet healthy snack, reach for a delicious date.