The peak season for dates is from mid-autumn through mid-winter, October through January in the northern hemisphere. Select plump, shiny dates. Stay away from dates that are too sticky or covered with crystallized sugar.
Most dates will need to be pitted before they can be used for cooking or eating out of hand. When you get ready to pit them, dust your knife blade with flour to keep the dates from sticking to the knife.
You can keep dates tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. Dry dates well packaged in plastic can be refrigerated for 10 to 12 months.
The Middle East produces most of the world’s dates. California grows most of the dates made in North America
Popular date varieties:
Barhi. Syrupy rich soft date, the softest and most fragile. Small to medium fruit with firm flesh and skin that turns from amber to golden brown when cured. Late ripening.
Dayri. Heavy, sweet-flavored soft date. Medium to large oblong soft-fleshed fruit with red skin that ripens to brown and then to black. Ripens midseason.
Deglet Noor. Sweet delicate flavored semi-dry date; known for its “true” date flavor. Medium to large fruit with a skin that turns from amber to deep brown as it ripens. Good for cooking. The name means “date of the light”—late ripening.
Halawy. Also Halawi. Sweet honey-flavored soft date. Halawy means “sweet.” Small to medium fruit with bright golden brown skin and tender flesh. Good for eating out of hand. Ripens midseason.
Khadrawy. Also Khadrawi. Rich, not overly sweet, flavored soft date. Medium to large oblong fruit with orange-brown to light-brown skin and firm flesh. Considered among the best in flavor and texture for eating fresh. Does not keep well so eat fresh, Ripens mid-season.
Medjool. Also Medjul. Rich, deliciously sweet soft date with little fibrous texture. Large to very large fruit with amber to reddish-brown skin as it ripens and cures. Excellent for eating fresh, very moist. Early ripening.
Thoory. Sweet, nutty-flavored dry date. Known as the bread date because it is suited to baking. Medium to large oblong fruit with golden-brown flesh. Late ripening.
Zahidi. Sweet sugary flavored semi-dry date. Medium-sized fruit with smooth, glossy skin and golden-yellow, meaty flesh full of syrup. Use for eating out of hand or cooking. Keeps well and is very good for baking. Early ripening.