In the Middle East and North Africa, dates have been enjoyed in abundance for several centuries. Known for its delicious sweet flavour and nourishing qualities, this fruit grows in clusters on huge date palms, which can sometimes reach 20 meters high. Traditionally, dates have long been part of the staple Bedouin diet. They are now increasingly being enjoyed in France and more than 90% of dates present on French fruit stands come from Algerian and Tunisian importation, as the dry climate is particularly favourable to date palm cultivation. A brief overview of their nutritional properties!
Dates are rich in carbohydrates that are quickly digested by the human body, which is ideal for reinvigorating you in case of a "slump" during the day (1). Dates are packed with nutrients such as potassium and vitamin C, which makes them the perfect snack for long exertion: sports enthusiasts, think of going hiking, skiing or cycling!
Full of carotenoids, dates are excellent for your sight and skin, and help to protect your cells against ageing, resulting in problems such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or cataract (2). In addition, this sweet fruit is made up on average of approximately 60% insoluble fibres, essential for good intestinal health (3). Indeed, these fibres encourage the natural production of bacteria and enzymes that are essential for the proper functioning of your digestive system. Soluble fibres of dates facilitate stabilisation of the level of glucose and cholesterol (4) in the blood. A note of caution, however as dates have quite a high glycemic index, diabetics are consequently advised to limit their consumption (5).
How to choose and taste dates
Most dates sold in France are dried or semi-dried. They may be consumed as such, since they preserve all their wonderful nutritional properties, even if their antioxidant qualities reduce slightly upon drying (6). You may benefit, insofar as possible, from fruits from organic farming for limiting risks of ingesting pesticides that can be bad for your health. As for recipes, dates are perfect for savoury and sweet recipes. They are, for example, the main ingredient of the traditional recipe for makrout, a fragrant North African pastry. Date paste is also used to replace the sugar in some cake recipes.
The flavour of dates goes very well with that of honey, and these two original ingredients will perfectly brighten up a winter salad, with lamb's lettuce and walnuts. For an original and gourmet appetiser, you can also innovate by making small date pastries wrapped in dry ham. Dates add a sweet touch to savoury dishes such as tagine and couscous, but can also be used in poultry stuffings and ragouts. In winter, the delicious date, cumin and carrot soup will restore a little warmth (and colour!) to your plate. Bon appétit!
Références : (1) Lampe JW. Health effects of vegetables and fruit: assessing mechanisms of action in human experimental studies. Am J Clin Nutr 1999 September;70(3 Suppl):475S-90S. (2) Lucarini M, Lanzi S, D'Evoli L et al. Intake of vitamin A and carotenoids from the Italian population--results of an Italian total diet study. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2006 May;76(3):103-9. 2006 (3) Afssa, 2002. Les fibres alimentaires : définitions, méthodes de dosage, allégations nutritionnelles (4) Brown L, Rosner B, et al. Cholesterol-lowering effects of dietary fiber: a meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;69:30-42. (5) Colombani PC. Glycemic index and load-dynamic dietary guidelines in the context of diseases. Physiol Behav. 2004;83:603-610. (6) Al Farsi M, Alasalvar C, et al. Comparison of antioxidant activity, anthocyanins, carotenoids, and phenolics of three native fresh and sun-dried date (Phoenix dactylifera L.) varieties grown in Oman. J Agric Food Chem. 2005;53:7592-7599.