Dates have become the superfood of the moment: the breakfast, lunch and coffee sweetener of champions. Touted by whole foods enthusiasts and Paleo eaters, this naturally dry fruit is a powerhouse of minerals, energy and fiber. Its paste makes a natural binder in baked treats; its syrup adds sweetness to beverages. Eaten plain or stuffed, it makes a nutritious snack.
But dates are more than all leathery and caramel-y goodness. They’re good for you, and they have quite a sweet spot in history.
Here are 20 cool things you probably didn’t know about dates:
1. The word “date” comes from the Greek word daktylos, meaning finger.
2. One cup of dates has about 400 calories, 27 percent of the recommended daily requirement of potassium and 48 percent of daily fiber needs.
3. They also provide calcium, zinc, iron, copper, magnesium, calcium and other minerals that may help lower blood pressure, stroke risk and labor complications.
4. Dates are rich in the antioxidants known as polyphenols, which fight disease-causing free-radicals.
5. Very few people are allergic to this fruit.
6. Their low water and high sugar content gives them a shelf-life of many months.
7. Dates made nomadic life and trade possible in the very dry and hot regions of the Middle East and North Africa.
8. Because the tree and its fruit have so many uses — from food to building materials — the date palm is known as the “tree of life” in the Middle East, and it’s the national symbol of Saudi Arabia and Israel.
9. Date palm seeds can go dormant for decades until the right light and water conditions are just right.
10. Some scholars believe a date — not an apple — was the real fruit mentioned in the Bible’s Garden of Eden.
11. Dates were probably cultivated about 8,000 years ago in present-day Iraq.
12. Date palm trees need at least 100 days of 100ºF heat and plenty of water to produce the best quality fruit.
13. Dates and laban, or buttermilk, are traditionally used by Muslims to break the Ramadan fast each evening.
14. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics mark years with images of full date palms, as the trees grow 12 new fronds a year.
15. About 3% of the earth’s farmland is covered by date palms, producing four million tons a year.
16. The bulk of US dates are grown in California’s Coachella Valley. High temperatures and irrigation from the Colorado River make growing conditions ideal.
17. There are more than 200 varieties of dates. Medjool, large and caramel-like, is the hardest to grow and therefore one of the most expensive to buy.
18. While they are high in sugar (about 93 grams per cup), many varieties have a low glycemic index (GI)
19. Ancient Mesopotamians considered the date an aphrodisiac. It’s the symbol of the goddess Ishtar, prototype of Venus and Aphrodite. (It can’t hurt to give it a try.)
20. Date palms were brought to Spain from North Africa around 800 AD. Spanish explorers brought seeds to Cuba in the 1500s. Missionaries planted them in Baja California in 1765, while other varieties were imported to California in the early 1900s.
While they might be the latest nutritional darling, dates are more than a passing fad. They’re versatile in the kitchen and, unless you’ve got an issue with sugar, a better choice than a candy bar to snack on. Take advantage now that they’re easy to find in the grocery store.