TASTE

So How Exactly Do Dates Grow, Anyway?

03/12/2015 07:01 am ET | Updated Mar 12, 2015

Of all the dried fruit options at the grocery store, dates rank amongst the least popular of the bunch. They don't have the cute California Raisin character to make them likable, nor do they have a catchy name like Craisins. What they do have is a mildly bad reputation for being just as common -- and unwelcome -- as fruit cake at Christmas time. It's too bad because dates are responsible for making some truly delicious recipes, most of them desserts.

On our quest to bring dates back into the public's favor, we got to thinking about where dates come from. For those of you who have never given any thought to this fruit's origin, the answer may surprise you. But even more remarkable is the amount of work -- and the serious need to overcome one's fear of heights -- required for the harvest of dates. These palms grow tall, and they take their fruit with them.

For those who are naive about the date, we're going to break it down -- with photos to boot:

  • 1 These are dates.
    igorr1 via Getty Images
    They're sticky and sweet and make so many delicious recipes possible.
  • 2 Like these brownies.
    Texanerin
  • 3 But they started off way up here.
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Yes, at the top of palm trees. Contrary to popular belief, not all palm trees grow coconuts. The date palm grows, well, dates in great big clusters just underneath the palm's fronds. These trees can be found in warm regions like California and Florida, but are particularly prolific in the Middle East where the date has long been a staple food.
  • 4 Harvesting dates is an incredibly labor-intensive process.
    AP Photo/Hatem Moussa
    Harvesting dates means climbing up the distance of tall palms, which can grow up to 75 feet high. This is reason enough to classify it as difficult work. Sometimes this is done the old fashioned way, as is pictured above. Other times it's done with the help of heavy machinery. It is more often than not paired with temperatures of over 100 degrees and a ceaseless burning sun.
  • 5 Dates are pollinated by hand to ensure an abundant harvest.
    - via Getty Images
    Just one more example of how tricky this fruit can be to harvest. In order to hand pollinate, the male sheaths (that contains the flower buds) are collected before they open and release their pollen. Sometimes the flowers are sold to farmers at market as is pictured above, other times farmers collect from their own male palms. The pollen is collected and hand dusted onto the female trees to guarantee a hearty harvest.
  • 6 Once the fruit starts growing, it has to be thinned out.
    DEA / C. SAPPA via Getty Images
    One more reason to climb up the length of the tall palms. In order to guarantee a successful harvest the date strands are thinned out to allow room for the fruit to grow to its maximum potential.
  • 7 The dates are separated by hand once picked from the palm.
    SAID KHATIB via Getty Images
    Not all dates ripen at the same time. Some are ready to be packaged and sold as soon as they're picked from the palm, but some fruit needs more time to sweeten. The not-quite-ready dates are left in the heat (and out of the sun) until they've reached full maturity.
  • 8 Fresh dates are harder to find than dried ones, but they're worth seeking out.
    Waleed Alzuhair/Flickr
    If you're not a fan of dates, chances are you've only ever encountered the dried variety. While these have their good qualities, they don't hold a candle to fresh dates. Fresh dates have the sweetness that'll make you swear off all other fruit for life, just for one more taste. You can get your hands on the fresh kind at farmers markets in areas where dates are grown -- or mail order them. It's worth it.

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