Dates are classified as stone fruit endemic to the Middle East and popular all around the world for their sweet and refreshing taste.
These fruits come from date palm trees and have a hard, pit-like center that contains their seed. Dates tend to grow in groups that hang like fingers from the top of the tree, and the word date derives from daktulos, the Greek word for fingers.
However, there is often confusion about what makes something a fruit or a vegetable, and the answer to this question can even be both in some cases.
Read on to discover why dates are considered a fruit, the difference between fruits and vegetables, and much more!
What are Dates and Where are They Grown?
Dates are one of the first tree fruits ever to be harvested by humans, and are small and reddish-brown in color. They can be eaten fresh or dried and are sought after for their sugary taste and chewy texture. Dates can be eaten on their own, but are just as often featured in a variety of salads, syrups, and various dishes.
They grow on date palms that can take anywhere from 4 to 8 years to produce fruit. These date trees can grow to be over 70 feet tall, so the process of removing the fruit remains dangerous and time-consuming whether you are climbing trees with a ladder or using a mechanical lift.
Dates have been around for millions of years, but the first human record of their existence is in 4000 BC when they were grown and harvested in the Fertile Crescent, a moon-shaped spread of land that includes parts of present-day Israel, Kuwait, Syria, Iran, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Turkey.
The Fertile Crescent is where civilization first began to develop, as people left behind nomadic lifestyles for the stability of farming and raising livestock repeatedly in one location.
Dates were easy to cultivate in sand, loam, and clay, and the date palm tree is very resistant to drought and dry weather. For these reasons, they became a popular fruit in the region, and even today a majority of the world’s dates come from the Middle East.
Egypt is the world’s top producer of dates, with more than one million metric tons grown a year. Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq follow close behind with 950,000 tons, 837,000 tons, and 675,000 tons a year, respectively.
Dates are now grown worldwide, and since the 1900s they have been grown in the United State, mainly in Southern California and Arizona, but also in Florida, Texas, Nevada, and Southern Utah.
How Can I Tell the Difference Between a Fruit and a Vegetable?
It can often be hard to determine whether something is a fruit or a vegetable, but the quick and easy way is to defer to the culinary definition of each.
If you are thinking about fruit and vegetables from the perspective of the average person — chef, cook, grocery store customer — they can be defined by how they taste.
Fruits, culinarily speaking, are defined as sweet and sugary, while vegetables are thought of as savory and more mellow in taste. Fruits are also considered to be snacks or desserts, while vegetables can be anything from a full side to the main dish.
The second way to think about the differences between fruits and vegetables is from the botanical perspective. This is more anatomical in nature and focuses on whether you are eating a reproductive part of the plant or not.
To a botanist, fruits are seen as anything that grows from the ovary/flower of the plant. Fruits tend to hold the seeds or the pit of the plant as well. The botanical definition of a vegetable, however, is any other part of the plant such as the stem, roots, bulbs, or leaves.
These two perspectives sometimes lead to confusion, where something commonly referred to as fruit is actually a vegetable and vice versa. Some examples of this include cucumbers, peppers, or pumpkins, which are all fruits but tend to be thought of as vegetables.
Are Dates Considered to be Healthy Food?
Dates, while certainly not lacking in sugar, are a very nutritious food to eat both on their own or when included in various dishes. Their natural sugar content is much healthier when compared to processed or artificial sugar, and this fact alone makes dates a popular substitute in many recipes.
Dates contain high amounts of potassium, fiber, and polyphenols. Potassium is an essential electrolyte for protein production in the body, as well as for building muscle mass and maintaining a healthy heart. Fiber helps control our appetites, and even just a quarter cup of dates can supply us with 12% of our recommended daily dose. Polyphenols are an important anti-oxidant that prevents inflammation in the body, and dates have more of these than almost any other fruit.
Dates are also a great supplier of essential nutrients, including iron, vitamin B-6, and small amounts of Vitamin A and Vitamin C. They are also rich in carotenoids and lignans which can prevent the development of chronic diseases, as well as fluorine, which helps prevent tooth decay. Selenium, an element that aids our immune system and fights off cancer, is also present in dates.
As gut health research continues to develop and prove its relevance, we may find ourselves looking more to dates for help in managing our gut microbiome for overall health. Recent findings have suggested that eating dates may help stave off the likelihood of colon cancer.
In addition to all of these health benefits, dates are great for your bone health because they contain significant amounts of calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium. They also have 2% of the recommended daily dose of Vitamin K, which also helps keep bones strong.
How Do I Grow My Own Date Palm Tree?
Provided you have adequate space and the proper climate, growing your own dates is a relatively straightforward process.
There are a few things to know before getting started, the first being that you will need to transport your plant between variously sized pots, and eventually into the ground, as it grows bigger. Be warned, these trees can reach heights of at least 50 feet, if not more. You’ll also need to plant both a female and a male date palm tree plant so that they can cross-pollinate and produce fruit.
Date palm trees also take a considerable amount of time to grow fruit, so be prepared for a minimum of 4 years before being able to harvest. Lastly, be sure that your plant has ready access to plenty of sun and water. These trees do best in warm, dry climates as long as they are watered regularly.
To begin growing your own date plants, buy some dates from a local grocery store and remove the seeds, wash them and soak them in water for 2 days, and then fold your seeds into a paper towel and seal them in a plastic bag. Keep your seed bag away from damp, cold weather and sunlight — ideally somewhere that rests around 70 °F.
Once a month has passed, you should see sprouts emanating from the seeds, and this is your sign to plant them in a pot of soil. Now, you will want to transport your potted date palm plant somewhere warm with plenty of access to the sun. Check the soil often and water it whenever it begins to feel dry. This should only be necessary about once a week.
Dates are indeed a fruit and a very healthy one at that. They are loved in a variety of recipes and are enjoyed eaten on their own. While growing your own dates does take a fair bit of work and time, it’s well worth the effort.