As if I wasn't enough in love with Medjool dates already.
This blog is chock full of recipes featuring dates, from muffins and bites to smoothies and smoothie bowls. They're my go-to natural sweetener for a variety of reasons. First, they're the perfect little package of 16 vitamins and minerals, naturally-occurring sugar, fiber, potassium (50% more potassium by weight than a banana), and phytonutrients all working symbiotically. Unlike sugary processed snacks that spike your blood sugar like crazy, dates have more slowly-digesting carbohydrates to help power you through your day. Plus, they taste like a chewy little dream!
Being able to experience the majestic date gardens in the Bard Valley of Yuma, Arizona with Natural Delights was a truly unforgettable experience. I got to meet amazing bloggers, eat chef-inspired meals in the date fields under the stars, explore the date groves and packaging plants, paint date trees, and discover the historic town of Yuma. Before this trip, I didn't even know that Medjool dates are actually a fresh fruit! I always thought they were dried like raisins.
Dates are never physically or chemically dried; rather, they dry naturally as part of the aging process. They're about 20% water, double that of raisins. The best part is that they're not perishable so they last for months. To plump them back up, simply put them in warm water, wipe them with a damp towel, or microwave them for five seconds. They'll last even longer if you store them in the refrigerator or freezer.
The growers of Medjool dates are like a big family. I spent a lot of time with Gus, Dave, and Glen, three of the main growers. There are only a handful of them, making the whole process all the more personal. One of the coolest things I learned about growing Medjool dates is that there are never any pesticides or herbicides used on the trees. The groves are actually all farmed organically (they just don't have the USDA organic certification).
The dates start off light green, then turn to yellow, and then turn to brown. There can be up to 2,000 workers at a time thinning the trees (or else the dates would be the size of marbles) and getting them ready for harvest. The trees are only harvested three to four times during the growing season.
They're super moist and incredible right from the tree, and then they dry out a bit as they sit. When I laid mouth on a date fresh from the tree, I said "oh my god" at least six times and then proclaimed that it was the best thing I had ever ate. I was not lying.
There are six original date trees, all of which came from Morocco in 1927. They thrive in the dry heat of Yuma, Arizona, which has a climate similar to the Middle East. Over thousands of years ago, the Colorado river flooded the land, leaving the soil super rich.
Natural Delights will harvest close to 25 million pounds of dates this year! The packaging process was really amazing to see. The dates are graded based on a variety of factors, mainly size. Every package of dates is hand-touched. It was the cleanest, most personal, and precise packaging process I've ever seen.
Watching the workers create the Coconut Date Rolls by hand was unbelievable. If you haven't tried these yet, you're in for a real treat! They have the soft and gooey texture of a brownie and the caramely flavor of date. They only have two ingredients--dates and coconut.
Now when I buy Medjool dates at the store, I will think of them in completely different way. I will think about Gus and Glen and the other growers. I will think about the beautiful trees and the hard-working men and women that harvest them. I will think of the simplicity of this power fruit and the love that goes into harvesting each and every one.
Until next time, Yuma!
Disclosure: I was invited on an expense-paid trip to Arizona by Natural Delights. I was not asked nor compensated to write this post. All opinions are my own.