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Dates as the Ancient Sweetener in the World

Known as "the tree of life," date palm trees were grown and cultivated thousands of years ago.

Phoenix dactylifera - this is how the species is called, but it's usually known as date or date palm. The original name "dactylifera" comes from Greek and is literally translated as "date-bearing." While the "fero" means "I bear," "dactylos" is translated as "date," which is the synonym for the word "finger." So, more literally, "dactylifera" means "I bear fingers." Date fruits were resembled with fingers due to their elongated shape.

How Old are Dates?

Known for its sweet and juicy fruit, the date palm is a flowering plant species that belongs to Arecaceae's plant family. Historians still cannot answer precisely when and where dates were first cultivated. Still, the fossil records studies confirm that dates existed even 50 million years ago.

Dates probably originated in the region known as Fertile Crescent, straddling Egypt and Mesopotamia. According to the archeological evidence, dates were a staple food for many ancient areas such as the Middle East and Indus Valley. While some suggest that they were native to the Persian Gulf area, others consider that they derived from the sugar-palm of India. Some evidence also shows that they were cultivated in Mehrgarh, a civilization in today's Pakistan and eastern Arabia.

Though archeologists cannot be sure what country is credited as the origin of the date palm tree, the fact that this fascinating fruit has a history of thousands of years is undeniable. From ancient times, this magic fruit was used for various purposes. 

Ancient Egyptians, for example, used to make date wine and also consumed date fruits during the harvest. Meanwhile, for ancient Hebrews, dates were more versatile - they used them for making wine, vinegar, cakes, bread. They even made use of date stones and fed livestock with them to fatten them, and used date wood to make utensils. Along with its food value, the use of dates for its medical purposes is also documented. If this is true, it means that the health benefits of dates were known even in ancient times.

Date palm trees also had a significant influence on religions. Jewish people, for example, have included dates among the seven holy fruits. They even have a moveable feast connected to this tree. It's called Palm Sunday and is celebrated with blessings and distributing palm branches. The latter represents palm beaches scattered in front of Jesus Christ when he rode to Jerusalem.

Islamic religion, however, stresses the holiness of this fascinating fruit much more than any others. Date palm is mentioned in the Koran several times. Their religious leader, Muhammad, is reported to pronounce that palm is the best property. He is also known for urging Muslims to eat dates as it cures illnesses and disorders.

The further distribution of date palm trees became possible with the help of trades who introduced them to South West Asia, North Africa, and Spain. Later, in 1765 they were also introduced into Mexico and California by the Spaniards around Mission San Ignacio. 

What are Dates Valued for?

However, dates were not the only good produced from date palm trees. In fact, there were several other ways of using date palm in ancient times. Let's take a look at some of them. One of the famous properties of date palm trees is their decorative motif, especially in mosaics. 

Its extraordinary waxy flowers were stylized into an almost abstract pattern and incorporated into architectural design. This style was later adopted also by European fashion during the 18th century.

Arabs not only used this as a valuable dried fruit but also pressed them in cakes and fed with them the camels, horses, and even dogs in the oasis of Sahara as there was little available for eating. This tradition of feeding the animals with dates is still used nowadays by them.

Date stones were also valuable. The use of these stones was especially famous among nomadic tribes called Bedouin. They collected the stones of the date fruits they ate and fed with them the animals when there was nothing to eat. Date stones are still used nowadays; they are grounded and mixed with another type of flour. Then it is used for preparing tasty and nutty-tasting bread, which is especially famous in Hofuf.

Palm leaves are also known for their delicacy; they can be cooked when they are still young and be consumed as vegetables. It turns out that palm trees can also provide wood for building. In some Arabian stores, you can find carved palm wood from old houses.

So, summing up all the mentioned properties of this fantastic tree we can surely say that dates are versatile and highly valued in most parts of the world. Here is the list of its properties that includes almost everything dates were used for

  • Dates are ancient natural sweeteners that were consumed with coffee or tea to contrast their bitterness.
  • Dates have been known for their medical properties from ancient times.
  • Date leaves are cooked and eaten as vegetables when they are still young.
  • Date palm wood is used for buildings in some countries.
  • Date stones are used for grounding and also for feeding the animals.
  • The date palm was a decoration motif in architecture and design.
  • Dates have symbolic representation in some religions.
  • Dates were used for making different food in ancient times - vinegar, wine, bread, cakes, etc.
  • Dates are still used nowadays both for their medical properties and as natural sweeteners. They are considered one of the healthiest fruits. They can be consumed both single and in various recipes.

And, in the end, as usual, here are some sweetest and fascinating recipes to prepare with dates and enjoy as a morning snack or consume during the other part of the day.

Recipes with Dates

Chocolate Coconut Date Bars

These are delicious and mouth-watering chocolate bars made by mixing the ingredients in the food processor. Here are the ingredients required to prepare this recipe.

Pitted Dates - 2 cups

Unsweetened shredded coconut - 1 cup

Cacao Nibs -¼ cup

Raw Cacao Powder - ¾ cup

Kosher Salt

Vegetable Oil Spray

Agave Syrup - 2 tbsp

As I mentioned, this recipe is prepared by mixing the ingredients in the food processor. So, put in the food processor cacao powder, cacao nibs, shredded coconut, syrup, salt, and dates, also add 2 tablespoons of water, and process altogether. Continue processing until you get a sticky mixture. 

Then take a baking pan and spray some vegetable oil, then line it with parchment, and press the sticky mixture in it. You should also leave some shredded coconut to scatter the mixture after pressing it in the baking pan. Then cut into bars and enjoy sweet and yummy bars.

You can also store them at room temperature for two weeks keeping the bars in an airtight container.

Spinach Salad with Dates

Delicious and crunchy salad prepared with vegetables and sweet dates. Here are what you need to make it a reality.

Pitted Dates - 2

Chopped Dates - ¾ cup

Grated Lime Zest - 2 teaspoons

Lime Juice - ¼ cup

Shallots, thinly sliced - 4 pieces

Kosher Salt

Black Pepper

Trimmed Flat-leaf Spinach - 1 bunch

Vegetable Oil - ⅔ cups

Put lime zest and juice with whole dates and ¼ cup vegetable oil in a blender and blend together until you get a smooth mixture. Sprinkle some salt and black pepper.

Heat the remaining oil in a saucepan and sliced shallot. Cook for 7 minutes, often stirring until they become crisp and brown. Drain the cooked slices and flavor with salt.

Add the spinach leaves to the dates mixture, mix them together, and then top with the cooked and crisp shallots. That's all!

Bourbon Balls with Dates, Walnuts, and Coconut

What can be more enjoyable and delicious than this super easy recipe of bourbon balls? You can end up just by eating one; they are so addictive! What you need to make it is the following ingredients:

Chopped Pitted Dates - 9 ounce

Unsweetened Organic Coconut Flakes - 1 cup (plus for rolling)

Unsweetened Cocoa Powder - 1 tablespoon

Walnuts - 1 and a half cup

Powdered Sugar - ¼ cup

Bourbon - ¼ cup

As I mentioned, the preparing process is straightforward and does not take too much time from you. So, before mixing all the ingredients together, you should steep dates in boiling water for 3-5 minutes.

Then take out from water and transfer in the food processor, add coconut flakes, cocoa powder, walnuts, powdered sugar, and bourbons. Process all the ingredients together until you get a sticky mixture.

Take out the mixture from the food processor and make small balls rolling them in the remaining coconut flakes. When all the balls are ready, arrange them on the baking pan and put them in the refrigerator. Let them cool for 15 minutes. Wait for some minutes so that they come to room temperature and serve.

Dates are not only consumed for being too sweet and as a fascinating substitute for non-healthy sugar but also for their several healing properties. You can read about their health properties in our blog Health Benefits Of Dates: Why You Should Eat Them Regularly.

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