Now is the start of sweet things to come. Today is Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and in one of its happiest traditions, Jews ensure the coming year will be a sweet one by enjoying sweet food.
This ritual began long before candy bars and ice cream, back when sweetness came by way of nutrient-rich fresh fruit. Fruit is still where sweetness and nourishment meet. Conveniently, Rosh Hashana coincides with the time of harvest.
Dipping apples in honey, traditional among Ashkenazi Jews from Central and Eastern Europe, poses a problem for vegans. Honey is made by bees, and vegans abstain from animal products.
There’s a sweet, plant-based solution — dates. They’re a Rosh Hashana tradition for the Sephardic Jews of the Middle East, and no wonder — date palms have grown there for 6,000 years. In California, date cultivation began only a century or so ago. Wherever they’re grown, they’re at their ripe peak right now.
Low-glycemic and loaded with potassium, iron and other essential minerals, dates are also loaded with puns and symbolism at Rosh Hashana. The word for dates in Hebrew is tamar, which sounds like the Hebrew phrase “to stop,” as in stop your enemy.
Can eating dates repel bad guys? Data is inconclusive. However, they’ve been enjoyed as a source of energy since way before so-called energy drinks. This fruit is all that and a mouthful of natural candy, too.
If what you know of dates is a box of pressed, processed cubes, a real one, whether fresh or dried, is a sweet revelation. Deglet Noor dates are slender, with a little chewiness. And then there are Medjools. Considered the king of dates, Medjools are the largest variety, gooey and astonishingly caramelly.
Dates are beloved by bakers and sweets lovers everywhere, from the Middle Eastern date-stuffed shortbread cookies called mamoul to your auntie’s date nut bars.
Another reason dates delight — they offer natural, low-glycemic sweetness, dairy-free moisture and egg-free body to vegan baked goods. Very nice, but there are other ways to date. Just a few add a sweet complexity to savory stews, salads and whole-grain dishes. Stuff a whole one with an almond or enjoy dates at their sweet and simple best, plain and whole, with a cup of coffee or tea.