Driving through Dateland, Arizona, we had to stop at the travel center and get a date shake. With soaring summer temperatures and a long day’s drive, it was a much needed break from the road. The creamy, sweet shake got me thinking about the origin of dates and why an area would be so inclined to pride itself on a single crop. After investigating, I began to understand what makes this fruit so sought after and how its nutritional benefits have been enjoyed for thousands of year.
Sweet and slightly chewy, dates are like nature’s candy. A product of the date palm, dates are the oldest known cultivated fruit. Originating in the Middle East, records indicate they have been around since 5000 BCE. Date palms thrive in hot and arid climates. They have long since provided a food source as well as economy for ancient desert dwellers.
With over 300 varieties to choose from, dates can be categorized as soft, semi-dry, and dry. Date palms were considered to be “the tree of life.” Not only were they a main food staple, but they also provided shade from the desert heat and supplied building materials for a host of goods, from basket making to houses.
In Ayurveda, the date palm is known as Kharjura. The cooling fruit plays a significant role in Rasayana -- that is, it rejuvenates the body. Eating dates can boost energy levels and improve one's digestion. Energy balls comprised of almonds and dates can be made to build ojas, the energy of life. If your ojas is depleted from lack of sleep, try making a tonic comprised of milk, dates, and cinnamon. Throw it all in a blender and then warm it on the stove.
Two dates a day can provide the body with many needed nutrients as they are high in protein, iron, vitamin B, potassium, and dietary fiber. In fact, they are so rich in fiber they are a natural laxative eaten to relieve constipation.
The combination of minerals in dates make them an excellent source of electrolytes. This energy boosting factor combined with the calcium content are an ideal food for pregnant women. Ingesting dates also plays a keen role in the nervous system. The vitamins promote brain activity and are said to help keep the mind sharp. With all the health benefits, it’s no wonder popularity for this exotic fruit has grown.
Dates are versatile in recipes and can be enjoyed both raw and cooked. Eat them on their own, add them to baked goods, make a jam, or cook them in a stew. My favorite way to eat them is in an energy boosting smoothie. The taste is similar to a shake, but requires no dairy and is much healthier.
3 dates, pit removed
1 cup cashew milk
1 tsp. turmeric
Toss everything in a blender with a little bit of ice and voila! Date smoothie time.