The official name of the date palm is the Phoenix dactylifera. Just pronouncing it correctly is impressive. The name comes from the Greek term for "date-bearing" it also means "finger" - make sense, they due look like fingers sometimes.
Maybe a bit overkill, but what the heck here's a video on how to correctly pronounce Dactyliferia:
Dates actually will ripen on the tree, but what you might not know is that people like to enjoy them through several stages of ripeness. Some will argue about what a fresh date actually is based on preference. In order to understand what a fresh date is, you must know the stages of the ripening process. This process does differ in the varieties of dates.
Ripening Stages Dates
This is the first and earliest stage of a dates life. Date is green and small.
Not much difference from Hababouk. Date has not changed color but has grown in size with high levels of tannin.
The khalal stage is where the date will start to change color. A date will reach this stage roughly 16-17 weeks after pollination. The skin color is yellowing or red depending on the date variety. Some farmers will actually start harvesting dates in this stage for a variety of reasons. The texture is hard and very crunchy when you bite into them. Dates of the khalal stage have a bitter, or sour taste due to their high tannin content. Moisture content at the khalal stage is 45-65 degrees.
Khalal Stage of Dates
Tannin is an astringent, plant polyphenolic compound that binds to and precipitates proteins and various other natural compounds including alkaloids and amino acids.
This is by far the best stage for dates to be harvested and eaten in. It's also the stage that we deem "fresh" here at Whole Fresh Dates. The tannins at this point are breaking down and the sweeter side of the date becomes more prevalent. The rotab stage is the optimal stage in our opinion. This is also the stage where we feel most people prefer when buying fresh dates. A date will reach the rutab stage just around 6-7 weeks after the khalal stage. The texture and taste profile of the rutab stage is not too soft (half-soft, half-form), semi-dry and a consistent chewy texture with a sweet caramel (medjools) flavor. Moisture content of dates at the rotab stage is 35%-40%.
Rutab Stage of Medjool Dates
The last and final stage in the ripening process of the date is the tamar stage. This stage is still very popular and sometimes preferred vs. the rotab stage. I personally feel they are just too soft. Almost like eating a over ripened banana. Again, just preference. The moisture content is typically below 30% during the tamar stage.
How Dates Are Ripened:
The typical way to ripen dates is on the tree. Palmeros (date farmers) will go up and down the tree several times during the ripening process to harvest the at the preferred stage. However, many times unripened dates will accidentally be harvested early or the farmer will want to post-ripen. In this case their are several ways that you can ripen dates while off the stem.
Freezing for 24 hours can ripen dates from the khalal to the rutab stage. In order to keep the skin from being damaged it's recommended to freeze the dates at -35 degrees to -50 degrees.
There is also the uses of acetic acid, ethanol or acetaldehyde to ripen dates, but these methods just are not feasible without proper control and experience.
Many times date farmers will pick dates early in order to increase production. If they know of severe rain or having issues with insects farmers will ripen post harvest. The unilateral way that farmers ripen dates is through climate controlled housing rooms...better known as ripening rooms. These room have excellent air circulation and temperatures will range depending on the variety of date. Humidity will roughly be right around 70%. At optimal controls it takes 3-5 days for date farmers to fully ripen the dates. However, this post harvest ripening process is avoided when possible. Dates that ripen naturally on the tree will be sweeter and more flavor then those ripened manually.
One would think that direct sunlight would be able to ripen dates...not the case. This causes blistering on the skin.