Are you ready to learn everything there is to know about medjool dates? Hopefully so because I recently had the pleasure of attending the Natural Delights Medjool Date Summit in Yuma, Arizona and I’m beyond excited to share all that I learned.
First off, I’m sure you are well aware that I LOVE dates. I’ll eat them plain or stuffed with nut butter as a snack, but I also use them in recipes all.the.time. A couple examples: Berry Almond Kale Granola, Raw Apple Pie Filling, Curried Chickpea Salad and these Pumpkin Pie Larabar Balls.
With that said, before traveling out to Yuma to visit the beautiful date gardens, meet the Medjool date growers and harvest fresh dates I was pretty ignorant about the growing process and didn’t know much about where dates came from. I just knew that they were natural, healthy and tasted like caramel. I’m not sure if it’s possible to love them anymore than I already did, but I definitely have a greater appreciation now that I’ve seen the whole process from date palm to package.
I learned a ton on the trip but in an effort to keep this post manageable I’m going to share some of the points that I thought were most interesting…
1. There are over 1,500 different date varieties grown in the world — they grow in warm climates like California, Arizona, Florida and the Middle East. Medjool dates are one of the most popular, known for they’re large size, soft texture and rich flavor.
The date in the back is still yellow and not yet ripe, the date in the middle is half ripe while the date in the front is golden brown and perfectly ripe.
2. All dates are grown on date palm trees — similar to coconut palm trees. They’re are male and female palms. The male’s sole purpose is to pollinate the female. Once that process is done they just sit back and relax for the rest of the year while the females carry the heavy load and produce the fruit. <– Sounds just like humans. 😉
While growing, the date bunches are wrapped in bags to prevent birdies from snacking on them and to keep them from falling to the ground.
These are young date palms, the older ones are much taller.
3. The Medjool date originated in Morocco. 11 Medjool date palms were brought from Morocco to Nevada in 1927 and planted in Yuma in the 1940’s. Six of the eleven are still standing (and producing) in the Yuma date gardens. They’re affectionally referred to as the BIG SIX.
See what I mean about the older ones being taller!
4. Medjool dates are a FRESH FRUIT. Most people think of dates as a dried fruit because they’re thinking of the dates you buy in the baking aisle. Medjool dates are actually harvested from the date palm, cleaned, sorted and packaged right away. There’s no processing and they’re never physically or chemically dried. That’s why you’ll find them in the produce section at the grocery store.
Taken while on a tour of Datepac, where all the Natural Delight dates are packaged.
5. When harvested Medjool dates are about 20% water. As they age they dry out naturally. You can keep them in your pantry but they’ll dry out a bit faster. For long storage it’s best to keep them in your fridge or freezer where they’ll stay fresh and delicious for months!
We were lucky enough to harvest and taste fresh dates, straight from the date palm tree. They are nothing short of amazing. Maybe one of the best tasting fruits ever — they’re so soft, creamy, rich and delicious. I wish you could taste these through the screen.
6. They’re healthy! They do contain natural sugar but they have a low/medium glycemic index score because they also contain a good amount of fiber, which slows the release of the carbohydrates and gives you sustained energy rather spiking your blood sugar crazy high. They’re also low in fat and packed with nutrients like potassium (50% more potassium by weight than a banana), copper, magnesium, vitamin B6, niacin, calcium, iron and vitamin K. Woot woot!
7. Medjool dates grown in the Bard Valley are never treated with pesticides. The desert-like climate doesn’t allow for insects or pests to survive so it’s not necessary. Natural Delights do have a few certified organic date gardens so they do produce and sell organic Medjool dates, however many of the growers already use organic practices they just haven’t gone through the process of getting certified.
8. Growing Medjool date is a labor intensive process. The growers call it a labor of love. It takes about seven years for a tree to start producing. Once that happens growers have to go up and down the trees 12-15 times a year to tend to the dates. Farmers call their growing areas “date gardens” or “date groves”, not fields!
9. The white stuff you may occasionally see on the outside of a date is the natural sugar crystalizing and making it’s way to the outside of the date. It’s totally fine to eat, but if you don’t like the looks of the white stuff or if you want the date to be softer you can wrap it in a damp paper towel and microwave it for 5 seconds, the date will plump up and the sugar will be absorbed back into the date.
10. There’s no wrong way to eat a Medjool date and there are a TON of different uses. Throughout the trip, every meal involved dates! We had date syrup for breakfast, dates in salads, cod with a bourbon date sauce, coconut date rice, date caramelized crème brûlée and date sweetened cocktails. One night we even had dinner in the date gardens!
It was magical.
All of the food we had throughout the trip was amazing! That said, everyone who knows me knows that fresh spring rolls are my jam so naturally one of my favorite dishes throughout the trip was the Fresh Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Dates from River City Grill, a locally owned restaurant in Yuma that hosted our group for lunch one day.
They were kind enough to share the recipe so we can make them at home!
If you love fresh rolls as much as I do you will adore these!
- 2 ounces rice vermicelli
- 8 rice wrappers (8.5 inch diameter)
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
- 12 oz. spring mix
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ cup chopped Medjool Dates
- 1 cup fresh bean sprouts
- 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped peanuts
- peanut sauce for serving
- Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Boil rice vermicelli 3 to 5 minutes, on
- until al dente, and drain.
- Fill a large bowl with warm water. Dip one wrapper into the hot water for 1 second to
- soften. Lay wrapper flat. In a row across the center, place a handful of vermicelli,
- mint, dates and lettuce, leaving about 2 inches uncovered on each side. Fold
- uncovered sides inward and then tightly roll the wrapper, beginning at the end with
- the lettuce. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
- Glaze the plate with peanuts and drizzles of hoisin sauce.
- Serve with peanut sauce.
I had a wonderful time learning all about Medjool dates, meeting the growers and seeing how the dates are harvested and packaged. While on the trip we also got to explore Yuma a bit — paint at Artsy Fartsy and go kayaking on the Colorado river! It was an absolute blast and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to share what I learned with you all.
Now let’s all go eat a Medjool date OR a Pecan Pumpkin Pie Spiced Date Roll because it’s October 1st and they’re for sale now. Oh my goodness, they are AMAZING!!
Photo cred: All the pretty photos were taken by Cat from Rabbit Food for My Bunny Teeth. She’s the best! All the iphone photos were taken by me. 🙂