Medjool dates, often called the king of dates, are considered to be the most sought after for their large size and rich, intensely sweet flesh. They're golden-brown with glossy, slightly wrinkled skin. Their thin, wrinkly skin gives way to tender, juicy flesh with a caramel-like flavor that adds a hint of the exotic to any snack or meal.
The king of dates comes with a royal price tag, too, though. But with good reason. These special fruits are pricey because their cultivation is incredibly labor-intensive. In order to ensure quality and yield, Medjool date palms need to be hand-pollinated, pruned, and protected. And each delicate date must be hand-picked.
Dates grow on large palm trees in hot, arid climates, and at least 50 types have been cultivated in the Middle East and North Africa for about 6,000 years. In the 1950s, during a date blight in Morocco, botanists began planting date varieties in California. All had names except for the biggest, plumpest, sweetest of the bunch, which came to be called Medjool—Arabic for unknown.
Dates are usually left to dry on the tree before being harvested, which accounts for their wrinkly appearance and places them in a peculiar category of being both dried and fresh. Different types of dates have different textures that fall into three categories: soft, like Medjool; semisoft, which are chewy and are pitted before packaging to dry a little more; and dry, which are often sun-dried after harvest and sold chopped.
Medjool dates are available in some grocery stores and specialty markets from late summer through midfall.
Medjool dates are often sold in plastic-wrapped boxes in grocery store produce sections, as well as in bulk bins. The latter allows you to pick and choose your dates; look for plump, evenly colored ones, with no sugar crystals or mold on the outside. Avoid very shriveled dates or those with mold or large sugar crystals on the skin.
They can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to two weeks, or refrigerated for several months. Remove the pits just before eating to prevent the interior from drying out. To do this, slit or halve the dates lengthwise, and pluck out the pit with your fingers.
Given Medjool's pleasantly sticky sweetness, they're often used in baking. But they also make a great addition to your morning yogurt or cereal, and work well in savory preparations like braises and in side dishes or salads. And of course, they're fantastic just eaten out of hand.
Eat Medjools raw to enjoy their soft, luscious texture. Snack on them out of hand, add them to salads, or stuff them with cheese or nuts as an hors d’oeuvre. For a classic cooked Medjool hors d’ouevre, wrap them in bacon and give them a quick broil. They also add sweetness and complexity to stews and braises. Bake them into cakes and cookies, like the oatmeal ones at right, or use them to sweeten and thicken smoothies.
Medjool dates are intensely sweet, so they contrast well with salty flavors, like cured meat, as well as tangy flavors like citrus, yogurt, mild goat cheese, and blue cheese. They also pair well with warm flavors, like cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger, and other fruits, like pears, apples, and bananas.
Dates can stay on your counter, covered, for about a week. They can also be stored in an air tight container in the fridge for up to six months.