The sun-ripened fruit has a long history of adding natural sweetness to recipes

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Exotic yet homegrown, ancient and avant-garde, dates are a study in culinary contradictions. The candy-sweet fruit has been cultivated in the Middle East since 4000 B.C., but nowadays, two-thirds of the dates Americans buy come from the California and Arizona deserts. With the interest in unrefined sweeteners growing, raw food chefs and health-conscious cooks looking to exploit the fruit’s natural, nutrient-rich sweetness are giving dates a modern makeover. The following recipes offer an array of possibilities, from a Middle Eastern tagine to an all-American party staple, the cheese ball.

Nutritional Profile

5 pitted Deglet Noor dates contain the following:

• 100 calories

• 2.8 g fiber

• 233 mg potassium

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Even though they’re sold alongside dried fruit, dates are actually fresh—they appear dried and have a long shelf life due to their low moisture content. Shop for Deglet Noor and Medjool dates in supermarkets, or order lesser-known varieties online.

DEGLET NOOR The most commonly grown date in the United States. Medium-sized and firm with a deep caramelized flavor. Nearly all pitted dates sold are this variety.

MEDJOOL Large, succulent, and dark golden brown with an almost creamy texture. The second most common variety in the United States.

AJWA Tender, luscious, and nearly black. The Prophet Muhammad reportedly said that those who consumed ajwa dates would not be “harmed on that day by poison or magic.”

HALAWI Small, chewy, and very sweet. Good for snacking.

KHADRAWY Tender and mildly flavored with a dark mahogany color. Very popular in the Middle East.

THOORY Drier than other date varieties, with a nutty flavor. Dark brown at one end and golden brown at the other.

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