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Dates were among the very first fruits cultivated, and the oldest date
stones ever discovered were found in the Shanidar Cave of northern Iraq, making date consumption a fact of life going back approximately 50,000 years. Mohammed exhorted Muslims to "cherish your father's sister, the palm tree", i.e. the date palm, which is why the fasts of Ramadan are always broken with a date.
In 1890, the USDA brought many commercial varieties of dates to the U.S., where they have grown ever since in California and Arizona.
By weight, dates are 50 to 70 percent sugar. The Deglet Noor ("date of light" in Arabic) contains sucrose, the sugar familiar to us from sugar cane. The Halawy, Zahidi, and Khadrawy varieties contain invert sugar composed of dextrose and levulose, similar to that in honey.
In spite of their desert heritage, dates store best under refrigeration and can be frozen. Dates easily absorb odors from other foods (such as onions or fish), so should be kept away from them. Dates should alse be kept segregated from foodstuffs such as flours and grains, which may contain infestations.
Traditional Arabs of the desert subsisted for long periods of time on milk and dried dates. In the U.S. in the modern era we have repeated this food success with the creation of the date shake, a milkshake made up of dates and vanilla or coffee ice cream. The more health-conscious can substitute yogurt for the ice cream, and add in orange juice.
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We pick these dates in the Khalal stage, yellow and cruchy like an apple, ripening and softening to a honey-like sweetness.