Dates 101 – A Comparison of Medjool and Deglet Noor Dates
Dates are the fruit of the date palm tree, which is native to the Middle East and Northern Africa. They have been a staple food in the Middle East for thousands of years. Many in that region consider date palm trees and dates to be sacred because they can literally be life-sustaining. Today, dates are also grown in the Mediterranean region, Asia, Mexico, and the United States (mostly in southern California and Arizona). The fruit grows in large clusters that hang from the top of date palm trees. As they ripen, their skin turns brown and wrinkles develop as moisture leaves the fruit. This is the point when they are usually harvested. They still have some moisture at this time. Whole dates have a stone or pit in the center that must be removed before eating. Dates are sold both with and without pits.
Dried and fresh dates are available year-round, but the fresh dates are best from November to January. There are many varieties of dates, but the most popular are the Medjool and Deglet Noor dates. Medjool dates are usually sold with the pit still within the fruit, whereas Deglet Noor dates are commonly sold pitted, with the seed being removed. In general, the Medjool dates are larger, sweeter, and stickier then the Deglet Noor dates.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
When comparing a nutritional analysis of three Deglet Noor dates with one Medjool date, none of which were pitted, the weight was close, with the Deglet Noor dates weighing 21 grams and the Medjool date weighing 24 grams. The slight increase in weight of the one Medjool date resulted in slightly more calories in the Medjool date with 66 calories, and 59 calories in the Deglet Noor dates. However, when comparing gram per gram, 100 grams of Medjool dates has 277 calories, whereas 100 grams of Deglet Noor dates has 282 calories. The high calorie count is due to the abundant natural sugars in both types of dates.
Many of the vitamin and mineral components were very closely matched, often with slightly more in the Medjool date, most likely because it contained more flesh than the three Deglet Noor dates. When comparing gram per gram, the nutritional differences are considered to be negligible.
Medjool Dates: Nutrients that were slightly higher in the one Medjool date include calories, carbohydrates, sugars, calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, niacin, pantothenic acid, and Vitamin B6.
Deglet Noor Dates: Nutrients that were slightly higher in the three Deglet Noor dates include protein (although the protein content is low in either type of date), fiber, lutein and zeaxanthin (important antioxidants).
Overall: No matter what type of date you choose, consider them to be high in sugars, with 3 Deglet Noor dates or 1 Medjool date providing roughly one-third of the recommended amount of sugar intake for the day. They also provide a good source of fiber, potassium, magnesium, copper, manganese, niacin, pantothenic acid, Vitamin B6, iron, zinc, phosphorus, calcium, lutein and zeaxanthin. They even contain some protein. The high fiber content of dates helps to offset the digestive effects of their high sugar content. This means they will not spark a high spike in glucose levels when eaten, as compared with a piece of candy. Eating dates with some protein (such as a nut butter or cheese) can help to reduce the rise in blood sugar levels when consumed.
High in Fiber…Helps Prevent Constipation. Dates are high in fiber, with about 7 grams in a 3.5 ounce serving. Consuming dates on a regular basis can help to ward off constipation because of their high fiber content. In one study, 21 people ate 7 dates a day for 21 days and experienced an increase in bowel movements when compared to when they did not eat dates.
Improved Blood Sugar Control. Despite their high sugar content, the fiber in dates helps to slow digestion, aiding in preventing large spikes in blood sugar levels after being eaten. Dates are known to have a low glycemic index, which reflects this benefit. So, if you enjoy something sweet once in a while, indulging in a few dates, especially after a meal, should not cause a large spike in blood sugar. This benefit may be helpful in the management of diabetes.
High in Antioxidants. Dates are especially high in important antioxidants that help to protect us from cellular damage caused by free radical molecules. Such damage causes inflammation and raises our risk for many diseases including heart disease, cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, macular degeneration, and more. Three powerful types of antioxidants found in dates include flavonoids, carotenoids, and phenolic acid.
Flavonoids help to reduce inflammation and may reduce the risk of diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and some types of cancer. Carotenoids have been proven to promote heart health, and may reduce the risk of eye diseases such as macular degeneration. Like the flavonoids, phenolic acid is known for its anti-inflammatory benefits and may help to lower the risk of cancer and heart disease.
Brain Health. Dates may help to improve our brain function. Researchers have found dates to be helpful in lowering inflammatory markers in the brain. Such markers (like interleukin 6) are associated with a greater risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. The benefits of dates to brain health have been attributed to their content of antioxidants (including flavonoids) that reduce inflammation.
Also, animal studies have shown that dates are helpful in reducing the activity of amyloid beta proteins which can form plaque in the brain. Plaque is known to disrupt communication between brain cells, which can lead to the death of brain cells and Alzheimer’s disease.
One animal study found that mice fed food mixed with dates had significantly better memory and learning ability, and exhibited less stress-related behaviors when compared with mice that were not fed the dates.
Pregnancy and Labor Benefits. Dates have been studied for their possible ability to ease labor in pregnant women. Researchers found that eating dates during the last few weeks of pregnancy may promote cervical dilation and reduce the need for induced labor. Dates may also be helpful for reducing labor time. In one study, 69 women who ate 6 dates a day for 4 weeks before their due dates were 20 percent more likely to go into labor naturally and experienced significantly shorter labor times than those who did not eat the dates. The results were confirmed by at least two other research studies. Researchers speculate that the benefits of dates were due to compounds in the fruit that bind to oxytocin receptors, mimicking the effects of oxytocin in the body. Oxytocin is what promotes labor contractions during childbirth.
Also, dates contain tannins, which have been shown to help promote labor contractions. Dates are also a good source of natural sugars and calories which are needed to maintain energy levels during labor and delivery.
Excellent Natural Sweetener. Dates are high in fructose, a type of natural sugar found in fruit. This gives dates their exceptional sweetness and caramel-like flavor. Dates make an excellent healthy substitute for processed white sugar because of their nutritional profile and antioxidant content. Date paste can be substituted for processed sugar on a 1:1 ratio. In other words, if a recipe calls for ½ cup of granulated sugar, you could substitute ½ cup of date paste with comparable results. See this website for instructions on making date paste as a sugar replacement: https://www.veggiesdontbite.com/date-paste-goodbye-refined-sugar/#recipe
Dates are usually found in packages in the dried food section of most grocery stores. These are usually the Deglet Noor variety. Dates may also be found in the produce section of some stores. Many times, those in the produce department are the Medjool variety. For fresh dates (usually Medjool dates), check that they are tender and not hard when squeezed. They should look plump despite their wrinkles. As dates age, they will develop crystals of sugar on their surfaces. So, if you see a whitish coating on the skin of the dates, it’s most likely crystalized sugar and not mold. There is no harm in this, but it does indicate that the dates are not as fresh as they could be. Expect your dates to be wrinkled, as this naturally happens as they dry.
Storing dates in the refrigerator will help to extend their shelf life. Since the refrigerator is a very dry environment, be sure to put your dates in an airtight container to help prevent moisture loss. Vacuum sealing them is another option. Store your vacuum sealed container in the refrigerator.
Deglet Noor dates are considered to be dried dates. They may be stored in an airtight container in the pantry, away from direct sunlight, and any heat source. However, they may also be stored in the refrigerator for extended shelf life.
Medjool dates are considered to be “fresh” since they have a higher moisture content than Deglet Noor dates. It is highly recommended that they be stored in an airtight (or vacuum sealed) container in the refrigerator or freezer for extended life. It is important to note that if you opt to store your Medjool dates in the freezer, they should be used within six weeks after having been thawed.
Basically, there is no preparation needed to consume these delicious fruits. At most, the pits will need to be removed if you purchased dates that were not pitted. Simply pull or cut them open and pull out the pits. Then use your dates as needed.
Fresh vs Dried
In parts of the world where dates are grown, fresh dates have a short season of only a few weeks. They are yellow and almost round with a mild flavor, and are crisp like an apple. At this stage they are considered to be unripe and are known as khalal, or “yellow crunchy dates.” At this stage, their moisture content is around 80 percent. Khalal dates will not be found in most American grocery stores because they would spoil too fast when being shipped long distance. Dates are grown in some warm climate areas of the United States. Fresh dates may be available in grocery stores located close to the growers.
The next stage in the life of a date is the “rutab” stage. At this point, they are considered to be fully ripe and have a light brown color. They are soft and will melt in your mouth. Their caramel flavor is like nature’s candy. Like dates in the khalal stage, their shelf life is short. However, when kept frozen, they can last for up to two years. At this stage, their moisture content ranges from 50 to 70 percent. Dates at this stage are still labeled as “fresh.”
The next stage, tamr, is when dates are dry. This is the type of date we typically see in American grocery stores. These dates are usually picked at this point. Their skin is wrinkled and the color has turned dark brown. At this point, they have a prolonged shelf life of 18 to 24 months. They have a moisture content of 10 percent or less.
Medjool Dates: Medjool dates are considered to be a “fresh” fruit since they are harvested and packaged with little processing. In that respect, they are “fresh.” However, since they are allowed to dry naturally on the date palm tree until they are in the tamr stage, they are actually a dried fruit (albeit naturally dried on the tree). They are not physically nor chemically treated in any way. So, you could say they are a fresh, dry fruit. They have a very sweet and rich, caramel-like flavor, and a soft, creamy yet chewy texture. They are truly nature’s candy.
Deglet Noor Dates: Deglet Noor dates are considered to be “semi-dry” and are sometimes described as having a slight crunch, yet they are still pliable. Since Deglet Noor dates are drier and tougher than Medjool dates, they are the preferred variety used for making date sugar.
Flavor and Texture Comparison
Medjool Dates: Medjool dates have a rich, chewy and sticky texture, similar to that of caramel. They are very sweet because of their high fructose content. They almost melt in your mouth. Medjool dates have become known as the “king of dates” or the “crown jewel of dates” because of their excellent flavor, chewy yet soft consistency, large size, and availability.
Deglet Noor Dates: Deglet Noor dates have a firm, fairly thick flesh. Their flavor is sweet and the texture is slightly pithy. They are not as sweet as Medjool dates.
Pit vs No Pit
Deglet Noor Dates: Most Deglet Noor dates come packaged with the pit having already been removed.
Medjool Dates: Medjool dates may be found both pitted and with the pits still intact. So, if you have a preference, it is important to read the label carefully to be sure you’re getting what you need at the moment.
What is the white stuff on dates?
The white coating you may see on dates is actually sugar that has made its way to the surface of the fruit and is crystalizing. It is perfectly fine to eat. If you prefer to remove the sugar coating, the date(s) can be wrapped in a damp paper towel and heated in the microwave for 5 seconds. The sugar will be absorbed back into the fruit.
Uses in Cooking
Medjool Dates: Many recipes, especially for smoothies, call for adding one or two Medjool dates. Their sticky consistency and sweet flavor makes them a great substitute for other high-sugar options, such as syrups, caramels, or caramelized sugars. Medjool dates are also exceptional when added to unbaked energy balls, since they will give a fudgy texture to them.
Deglet Noor Dates: Since Deglet Noor dates do not break down as easily as do the Medjool dates, they work well for toppings and adding texture to baked goods, such as fruit and nut bars. They are often used for making date sugar.
Medjool Dates: Medjool dates are usually more expensive than Deglet Noor dates. This is because the process of growing and harvesting Medjool dates is more labor-intensive than the Deglet Noor dates. Medjool dates are left to ripen on the tree, which takes longer and results in a richer tasting fruit. Also, since they are somewhat delicate, they are picked individually, rather than in clusters, making their harvest very labor-intensive. Hence, the cost of production is higher than Deglet Noor dates.
Deglet Noor Dates: Deglet Noor dates are picked early and ripened thereafter. Clusters of fruit on branches may be harvested at once, or individual fruit may be harvested, depending on how they are to be marketed and their stage of growth. Either way, harvesting and processing Deglet Noor dates is less labor-intensive than Medjool dates, so they can be sold a cheaper price.
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Dates
* For a simple snack, split a Medjool date and add a spoonful of your favorite nut butter. Enjoy!
* Split Medjool dates and stuff them with a small chunk of dark chocolate. Enjoy as it is, or place it under a broiler for 1 minute…just long enough for the chocolate to start to melt (but not completely). Enjoy!
* For some extra sweetness, add some chopped dates to your favorite fruit or vegetable salad.
* If you have a recipe that calls for dates and you don’t have enough, you could possibly substitute figs, raisins, cherries, cranberries, or dried apricots. Yes, the substitutes may change the flavor profile of your dish, but they would serve as potential substitutes.
* Since Medjool dates are soft, they can easily be blended into smoothies for added sweetness.
* If you need some added sweetness in a sandwich, chopped Medjool dates would work well since they are soft and almost melt in your mouth when chewed. Example: Add chopped dates to a nut butter sandwich instead of jelly or jam.
* Since Deglet Noor dates are drier and a little tougher than Medjool dates, they can easily be chopped without becoming mushy. This property makes them good additions to bakery items like breads, cakes, and cookies. After being baked, they still maintain some of their texture, giving a slight chewiness to the baked food.
* Very few people are allergic to dates. So, if you are one with a lot of food allergies, this should be one food you can eat. Check with your health care provider if you’re not sure.
* Deglet Noor dates are almost always sold as pitted dates. Medjool dates are sold pitted, but more often with the pit still inside. So, when using Medjool dates, be sure to remove the pit if it has not already been removed by the producer. You don’t want to be responsible for someone breaking a tooth on something you served!
* Medjool dates can be stuffed with both sweet or savory fillings. Try dates stuffed with marzipan, candied orange or lemon peel, tahini, goat or blue cheese, bacon, or nuts such as almonds, pecans, walnuts, or pistachios.
* Chopped dates can add a special flavor and texture to pasta or rice dishes, or even savory meat dishes.
* The white coating you may see on dates is actually sugar that has made its way to the surface of the fruit and is crystalizing. It is perfectly fine to eat. If you prefer to remove the sugar coating, the date(s) can be wrapped in a damp paper towel and heated in the microwave for 5 seconds. The sugar will be absorbed back into the fruit.
* Try using dates to sweeten sauces, marinades, salad dressings, and even your morning oatmeal.
* For a simple treat or dessert, simply combine some orange slices and chopped dates in a bowl. Sprinkle with toasted almond slices and enjoy!
* Try a delicious chocolate date smoothie! Blend 2 dates with 1 cup milk of your choice. Blend until the dates are well broken up and incorporated into the milk. Add 1 frozen banana, 1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder, and 1 tablespoon nut butter of choice. Add a pinch of cinnamon and blend until smooth. Enjoy!
* Since dates are so sticky, they make excellent binders in baked goods, like cookies, bars, and energy balls or bites.
* If your dates have become dry and hard, soak them for 5 minutes in hot water. They will soften up and can be used in a number of ways. The soaking water will be somewhat sweet, so it can be added to anything that calls for a little added liquid and sweetener.
* If you need a liquid sweetener, why not make date syrup? Finely chop 1 pound of Medjool dates. Simmer the chopped dates in 4 cups of water for 30 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and allow the mixture to cool for 30 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor and process until very smooth, for at least 1 minute. Strain in a nut milk bag or several layers of cheesecloth. Twist the cloth or bag to remove as much moisture as possible. Taste the liquid. If it is not sweet enough for your needs or if you want it a little thicker, place it in a sauce pan and simmer it over medium heat for about 30 minutes, or until your desired results are achieved. Allow it to cool, and store extra in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Be sure to use it within a few weeks.
* If you need date paste for a recipe and don’t have any, you can make your own. Simply place some Medjool dates in a food processor and process until smooth. Store any extra date paste in an airtight container in the refrigerator and use it within 2 weeks.
* Date sugar is now available in many grocery stores. It is simply finely ground up dried dates. If you’re looking for a natural sweetener to use in place of processed sugar, this may do the job. Note that it will impart a caramel-like flavor to foods. Also, since date sugar is just ground up dates, it still contains the fiber naturally found in the fruit. Therefore, it won’t all dissolve in liquids like granulated or brown sugar would. So, date sugar may add a bit of “grit” when used in hot liquids and some baked goods.
* Date sugar is not the same thing as “date palm sugar” or “palm sugar.” Date palm sugar and palm sugar are made in a similar way as cane sugar. The date palm tree sap is boiled down until the sap is dry and crystalized. It will not have the same nutritional value as date sugar.
* To chop dates without having a sticky, gooey mess on your knife, either spray the knife with nonstock cooking spray, or lightly coat the knife blade with just a little oil of choice. This can be done by moistening a paper towel with oil, then rubbing the knife blade with the oiled paper towel.
* If you want to remove the skin from dates, place them in hot water for 1 to 5 minutes, depending on how hard and dry they are. Allow them to soak until the dates start to soften. Remove them from the water and remove the softened skin and pit, if necessary. Peeled dates are excellent for making smooth date paste, a silky-smooth mousse, or any other application where soft, smooth dates would be needed.
Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Dates
Cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, parsley, salt, vanilla
Foods That Go Well with Dates
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, bacon, flax seeds, nuts (in general), peanuts and peanut butter, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, pork, poultry, prosciutto, sesame seeds, tahini, tofu, walnuts
Vegetables: Cabbage (esp. red), carrots, onions (esp. caramelized), parsnips, squash (winter)
Fruits: Apples (dried and fresh) and apple juice, apricots, bananas, cherries, coconut, cranberries, lemon, orange (fresh, zest, and juice), pears and pear juice, pumpkin, tamarind
Grains and Grain Products: Amaranth, bran, oat flour, oats and oatmeal, quinoa, rice
Dairy and Non-Dairy: Cheese (esp. blue, cream, feta, Parmesan), cream, mascarpone, milk (dairy or non-dairy), yogurt
Other Foods: Bourbon, brandy, caramel, chocolate (white or dark), coffee, honey, maple syrup, miso, oil (esp. olive), rum, sugar (any type), toffee, vinegar (esp. balsamic)
Dates have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
North African cuisine, baked goods (i.e., breads, cakes, muffins, pie crusts, scones), confections (i.e., truffles), desserts, granola, Middle Eastern cuisine, puddings, salad dressings, smoothies, soups, spreads
Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Dates
Add dates to any of the following combinations…
Almond Milk/Almonds + Bananas [Optional: + Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Vanilla]
Apples + Cinnamon + Coconut + Nutmeg + Orange Zest + Pecans
Apples + Cinnamon + Oatmeal
Apricots + Ginger
Balsamic Vinegar + Blue Cheese
Bananas + Coconut [In Muesli]
Bananas + Oats
Chocolate + Walnuts
Coconut + Nuts
Coconut + Orange
Lemon + Oatmeal
Nuts (i.e., Walnuts) + Oats + Sweetener (i.e., Brown Sugar, Maple Syrup)
Orange + Sesame Seeds
Parmesan Cheese + Walnuts or Almonds
Peanuts + Vanilla
Roasted Salted Almonds
Soft Cheese [As a Stuffing for Dates]
Tahini + Sea Salt [Drizzle Dates with Tahini and Sprinkle Lightly with Salt]
Easy Homemade Larabars https://www.liveeatlearn.com/homemade-larabars/
No Cook Chocolate Vegan Fudge https://www.liveeatlearn.com/chocolate-vegan-fudge/
Salted Date Caramel https://www.liveeatlearn.com/salted-date-caramel/
Medjool Date Power Balls https://www.naturaldelights.com/recipes/medjool-date-power-balls
Cranberry Pecan Bars https://tasty.co/recipe/cranberry-pecan-bars
Cashew Coconut Bars https://tasty.co/recipe/cashew-coconut-bars
Raw Vegan Breakfast Ice Cream Cake http://thecolorfulkitchen.com/2014/09/01/raw-vegan-breakfast-ice-cream-cake/
2-Layer No-Bake Peanut Butter Brownie Bars https://minimalistbaker.com/2-layer-no-bake-peanut-butter-brownie-bars/#wprm-recipe-container-36167
Peanut Butter Eggs https://minimalistbaker.com/peanut-butter-eggs/#wprm-recipe-container-36247
Apple Pie Larabars https://mywholefoodlife.com/2013/04/21/apple-pie-larabars/
Banana Date Smoothie https://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-banana-date-smoothie-207636#post-recipe-11032
Kale and Quinoa Salad with Dates, Almonds, and Citrus Dressing https://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-kale-quinoa-salad-with-citrus-dressing-healthy-lunch-recipes-from-the-kitchn-199341#post-recipe-11221
Kumquat Tarts with Almond-Date Crust https://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-kumquat-tarts-with-almond-date-crust-165785#post-recipe-10477
Vegan Chocolate-Date Smoothie https://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-vegan-chocolate-date-smoothie-242817#post-recipe-11796
How to Make Date Caramels https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-vegan-caramels-244025#post-recipe-9750
Creamy Orange-Date Smoothie https://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-creamy-orange-date-smoothie-239262
How to Make Date Syrup https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-date-syrup-243951#post-recipe-11226
How to Make Old Fashioned Date Bars https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-old-fashioned-date-bars-243991#post-recipe-11783
Chocolate Date-Nut Lollipops https://www.vegkitchen.com/chocolate-date-nut-lollipops/
Nutty Cashew Dates https://www.vegkitchen.com/nutty-cashew-dates/
Date-Nut Truffles https://www.vegkitchen.com/lauras-date-nut-truffles/
Date-Pecan Bars https://www.vegkitchen.com/date-pecan-bars/
Healthy No Bake Date Bar Recipe https://www.superhealthykids.com/recipes/healthy-no-bake-snack-bars/
Joachim, David. (2010) The Food Substitutions Bible. 2nd Edition. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Robert Rose, Inc.
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.