By some estimates, dates may be the oldest tree crop cultivated by man. For more than 5,000 years, this healthy fruit has helped sustain the diets of people living in the Middle East and North Africa. Introduced
to California in the 18th century by Spanish missionaries, dates have been dubbed “the candy that grows on trees.”

Health Benefits. Despite any comparison to candy, dates are actually quite healthy. They are fat free, cholesterol free, sodium free and a good source of fiber. With more than 20 different amino acids, dates aid in
digestion and help control blood sugar levels. Their high
selenium levels may even lower the risk of cancer and heart disease and increase immunity. They also provide small amounts of A, C and
B-complex vitamins.

Buying. While most varieties of dates are available year-round, the peak growing season is from October to December. Dates run the gamut from soft to semi-dry; the former have the highest moisture content.

Storing. Store soft dates in the refrigerator in a tightly closed container to retain their moisture. Semi-dry varieties can be stored in a similar container in a dark, cool place. Frozen dates that are stored in an airtight container will stay fresh for up to 1 year.

Using. Dates can be used fresh, or cooked in baked goods, sauces and desserts. They are also a wonderful addition to a tossed green salad and can be rolled in coconut for a quick treat that will appeal to kids of all ages.