If you’re in Southern California’s Coachella Valley, there’s a good chance you’ll pass Shield’s Date Gardens on US Highway 111 in Indio right outside Palm Springs. Do yourself a favor and stop in. Even if you’re not fond of dates, once you walk through the door, curiosity will get the better of you. A huge variety of dates packaged for sale line the aisles, a dairy bar serves up frothy date shakes, and even better, baskets filled with different date varieties await free tastings.
You’ll discover that there are a huge variety of dates with different colors and flavors. Here are some popular varieties available at Shields:
Medjool – largest variety, these soft dates can weigh an once or more. Sweet, soft, and creamy, they’re often called the Cadillac of dates. Medjools were first grown in the CA desert in the 1930s from 11 offshoots imported by the USDA from Morocco. The original trees in Morocco were destroyed by disease and as a result, all the Medjools grown in the world today are descended from those offshoots. This variety also has a high sugar content and sometimes forms a white powder on the skin or sugar crystals below the skin of the date. This will not affect the flavor. You can melt the sugar back into the dates by putting them on a baking tray, covering with a wet towel, and placing the baking tray in a warm oven for about 15 minutes or microwave a few seconds.
Deglet Noor (Date of Light) – a semi-dry date originally from Algeria. Today it is the leading commercial variety grown in the US. It has a golden amber color with a translucent skin yielding a delicate flavor. Many prefer them because they are more chewy than Medjools and not as rich. Another plus is they ship and store well.
Blonde – medium sweet, creamy, and soft available only at Shields
Brunette – available at only at Shields, these are one of the black date varieties developed by Floyd Shields back in 1927
Thoory – chewy and caramel-like in texture, the more you chew them, the better they taste. Popular with athletes and joggers because you can put them loose in your pockets. They are not moist or sticky. This date is light brown to straw-colored. The only dry date variety grown in the US today, they are one of the last varieties to ripen and are not harvested until December.
How to Store Dates
Unlike most fresh fruits which have to be refrigerated, dates actually keep best when frozen. Dates normally sold in supermarkets are either drier grades of hydrated dates or imported varieties that do not require refrigeration for many months. The higher the moisture content, the more perishable they are. Since most dates sold at Shields Date Gardens are higher grade dates containing more moisture than those available at your local supermarket, they need to be stored in a refrigerator or freezer. As long as you keep the dates covered and refrigerated, they will stay fresh in the container you purchased them in for 15-20 days. However, they will keep better if transferred to an airtight container…up to 1 year in the refrigerator and up to 5 years in the freezer. If your dates do dry out, place an apple slice or a piece of bread in the container overnight.
Why and How to Eat Dates
Great news, dates are healthy. The average size date has about 23 calories and 5-6 medium sized dates equal 1 serving of a 5-a-day fruit and vegetable serving recommended by the National Cancer Institute. Dates are fat free, cholesterol free, sodium free and a good source of fiber. In addition to important vitamins and minerals, dates have 2.5 times as much dietary fiber and more potassium than bananas. They are an excellent choice for those who take diuretics to control hypertension and other health disorders causing excessive loss of the body’s potassium.
Here’s Some Tasty Date Recipes To Get You Started:
Lowfat Date Yogurt Shake
½ cup chopped dates
½ cup medium banana
½ cup orange juice
½ cup plain nonfat yogurt
½ cup crushed ice
Combine dates, bananas, and orange juice in blender and puree until dates are finely chopped. Add yogurt and ice, blend until just combined. Makes 2 servings.
Date Sunflower Cookies
½ cup cinnamon applesauce
½ cup melted butter
2 ½ cups flour
1 cup sugar
½ cup molasses
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp baking soda
2 cups date bits
1 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
Mix together and drop by teaspoonfuls onto non-stick baking sheet. Bake at 375 F for 9 min..