Dry or soft dates are eaten out-of-hand, or may be pitted and stuffed with fillings such as almonds, walnuts, candied orange and lemon peel, tahini, marzipan or cream cheese. Pitted dates are also referred to as stoned dates. Dates can also be chopped and used in a range of sweet and savory dishes, from tajines (tagines) in Morocco to puddings, ka'ak (types of Arab cookies) and other dessert items. Dates are also processed into cubes, paste called "'ajwa", spread, date syrup or "honey" called "dibs" or "rub" in Libya, powder (date sugar), vinegar or alcohol. Recent innovations include chocolate-covered dates and products such as sparkling date juice, used in some Islamic countries as a non-alcoholic version of champagne, for special occasions and religious times such as Ramadan.
Most varieties range from 1 to 2 inches long and are oval in shape (though some are so chunky they're almost round), All dates have a single, long, narrow seed. The skin is thin and papery, the flesh cloyingly sweet. Dates are green when unripe and turn yellow, golden brown, black or mahogany red -- depending on the variety-as they ripen. They're generally picked green and ripened off the tree before drying. When fresh, dates contain about 55 percent sugar, a percentage that increases dramatically as the date dries and the sugar becomes concentrated. Dried dates are available year-round and are sold packaged-pitted and unpitted-and in bulk, unpitted. Chopped dried dates are also available in packages, Choose plump, soft dates with a smooth, shiny skin. Avoid very shriveled dates or those with mold or sugar crystals on the skin. Store fresh dates, wrapped in a plastic bag, in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks. Dried dates can be stored, airtight, at room temperature in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months or up to a year in the refrigerator, Dates are a good source of protein and iron.
According to a study by Al-Shahib and Marshall, in many ways, "dates may be considered as an almost ideal food, providing a wide range of essential nutrients and potential health benefits." The sugar content of ripe dates is about 80%; the remainder consists of protein, fiber, and trace elements including boron, cobalt, copper, fluorine, magnesium, manganese, selenium, and zinc.