Dates. Juan Manuel Sanz/© ICEX
The date is the fruit of the date palm, a tree that can reach a considerable height. The fruit is small, elongated and varies in color from yellow to red. The flavor is sweet, similar to honey. Dates grow in bunches that hang beneath the large, feather-like leaves.
Spain is home to the largest and northernmost date palm grove in Europe, in the town of Elche in the province of Alicante. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it dates back to the Moors who introduced a crop that would flourish in spite of the very low rainfall in the area.
The first date palms to reach America were taken by Spanish colonizers. Spain grows several varieties of date palm, which can be distinguished by the characteristics of the fruit. Candia dates have a rough skin, are hard and have a low sugar content. Their yellow-green color turns gold or light brown after drying. Tenada dates do not have such rough skin, are sweeter and less astringent but less fleshy. The fruits of the Tierna palm are white and very rich in sugar so they can be eaten fresh.
Dates may be picked from the tree when already dry or may be dried in the sun. This was traditionally done by laying them out on straw mats. They are very nutritious and may be eaten fresh, cooked or dried, but are mostly served as a dessert.