If you do see dates at a reasonable price in the supermarket, it is usually a good idea to buy as much as you can and freeze them until you can use them. Various methods of storage may be used depending on the type of date, including freezing them or simply storing them in a cupboard. The popularity of certain varieties of dates such as Medjool dates means that they are rarely available in stores and can be expensive since they are in such high demand.
Aside from their scarcity, another reason for the high cost is the fact that Medjool dates are picked by hand, not in large clusters. It is necessary to pick them individually by hand because of their delicate texture. The cost of dates also depends on their grade, which ranges from choice (the least expensive) to jumbo (the largest and most expensive).
Image used under Creative Commons from Itinerant Tightwad
If they are stored properly, dates can last for a very long time. Harder, drier varieties can be stored in an airtight container without refrigeration in an area that is both dark and cool. They can last for several weeks in those conditions. The airtight container is necessary because dates can easily absorb odors from other foods. Medjool dates and other softer varieties can be stored in an airtight container with no refrigeration for up to a week; however, you will need to refrigerate them if you need to store them for longer. If they are not refrigerated they can dry out or may start fermenting. Dried out Medjool dates can be unpleasantly chewy.
Can You Freeze Dates?
Dates have a very high sugar content (50-70 percent by weight), which means that they can handle freezing very well; in fact, some people believe that freezing actually improves their texture by making it even softer and even “creamy.” In order to freeze dates, place them in an airtight container and place the container in the freezer. Dates can last as long as five years if they are kept frozen. Note that sugar crystals can appear on or beneath the skin of the dates if they have been frozen for a while but will not affect their taste.
To thaw your frozen dates, place them in a microwave and defrost for 30 seconds. Do not subject dates to high heat as there is the potential for the sugar crystals to caramelize and affect their flavor.
Making Date Paste
Date paste is another way for you to use your dates. You can also freeze the date paste for later use if you prefer. Date paste is an excellent substitute for refined sugar and it is also gluten-free. You make it by removing the pits, soaking the dates for a few hours and then pureeing them in a food processor or blender. Date paste allows you to save a relatively large quantity of dates without taking up much freezer space. You can simply store the paste flat in a zip lock bag and break off pieces as you need them.
Dates are among the oldest cultivated fruits in the world with the fruits being eaten as far back in history as 4000 BC. There are hundreds of date varieties including Medjool, Khadrawy and Deglet Noor. Many of these date varieties were brought to the United States in the late 19th century and have been grown here ever since. As a desert fruit, the date thrives in the dry climes of California and Arizona. Medjool dates are among the most popular date varieties due to their large size and softer, chewier texture. Dates are a good source of potassium, dietary fiber and antioxidants.