medjool dates in Toronto
Has anyone bought medjool dates from Nasr or Arz lately?
I'm curious to hear what the going rate is. I paid $6.99/lb at a non- Middle Eastern shop, and not sure whether the prices are significantly better on Lawrence East.
Also, would the quality at Nasr/Arz/elsewhere be significantly higher than what one finds at a Sun Valley/Whole Foods/Pusateri's? Or is it pretty much the same product?
Thanks for any comments.
I have grown fruit as a hobbyist in different countries in widely different climates. (Eg In Toronto I grew Bramley's Seedling apple and Comice pears.) I have never gown dates, although I have wanted to. So hobbyist's zeal launched my inquiry. Here's a distillation of where I have gotten so far.
Briefly. There is nothing like a good medjool. But what is a good medjool depends on individual taste. What you get as a medjool depends on cultivation practices and individual growing conditions.(The French charge enough for spoiled grape juice that they get to coin a special word, "terroir.")
Quality, which means commercial quality which means price starts off depending on size, the bigger the more expensive. Size depends on culling to reduce the number of dates on the spike. Culling requires labour.
It is not known why date skin cracks, but it has something to do with humidity . Low humidty results in less skin. Cracked skin reduces the "farm gate" price dramatically, by as much as 50%.
"Terroir" causes great variation in the date fruit even in the Rift Valley in a country as small as Israel. North of the Dead Sea the fruit is softer and darker brown in colour . South of the Dead Sea , it is yellowish and more fibrous. As for taste, considerations are the nature of the soil, the amount of sun, variations in temperature even during the 24 hour day, overall climate, agricultural practices and who knows what else. Ask a oenophile about the mystique of terroir.
With all fruit, when it is picked is a big element. Medjool in Israel is generally not left to cure, as occurs elsewhere. When it is ripe, it really is is ripe and it is picked. This is a big difference resulting from terroir.
As for taste and cultural conceptions, for eg. Italy has a preference different from the rest of Europe. Italy prefesr yellowish dates, elsewhere in Europe brownish.
There is a standard text on date growing , "Date Palm Cultivation" put out by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) of the United Nations. It is available on the Internet.
I like the fat luscious medjool with a pronounced date taste. The very biggest are overblown to my taste. The smaller ones don't have enough luciousness and aren't worth the premium price over other dates. I prefer ones with a bit of cracked skin. As for locale of origin, California medjool to my taste is OK, but doesn't compare to medjool from Israel . Israel seems to have the terroir. Mexican medjool is less preferable than Californian. I have never had dates from Arizona. So I may have been spoiled , but for me it is either Israeli medjool or cooking dates. Once in a long while I get lucky and find nice Deglet Noor (last lot , from Tunisia, soft, moist and tasty.)
So I prefer medjool with trade names such as Hadiklaim and Jordan valley. The Costco dates are marketed by an Israeli company but they are grown and marketed outside the Israeli co-op of which all Israeli date growers are members and are grown outside Israel proper. They are cheaper because they grade lower; they grade lower because they are smaller . But for me what matters is that they are not as plump. I tried a box anyway. They lack lusciousness- comparatively anyway. In part it is the ratio of flesh to stone, in part texture and from there it goes to taste. So if I had to choose, I would choose cooking dates that are much cheaper for the price. A good burger rather than an indifferent steak. That's just me; your tastes may differ.
Here is a promo video on date growing . Hope I gave the url properly.
The quality of medjool dates depends on the terroir, the stage that they are picked, and growing issues relating to dryness of the fruit.
The best medjool come from Israel from the Rift Valley area-, the southern Jordan River, around the Dead Sea and further south into the Rift Valley.. There is no place like it for growing dates and drying laundry outdoors. Israel produces 60% of the world wide crop of medjool, apparently. Other commercial production comes from California, Mexico, and apparently to a limited extent Arizona.
Under- ripe dates miss lusciousness. Overripe, they lack date-iness and become excessively sweet. Overblown like a rose past its prime or like Diana Dors after her cinema career had ended.
I have seen in Toronto boxes of dates marked as from California and Mexico and also unmarked boxes. Boxes from Israel usually do not give the place of production, I believe in order to enhance marketability in commercially important segments of the community.
It seems that the standard price for medjool is $6.99 a lb.
How up market a store is does not predict quality. I would patronize Arab and North African stores. They are particularly interested in stocking good dates and their prices will not be more than anyone else's, but look out for local political correctness dictating the origin.
Last time in, JohnVince Steeprock had good Israeli medjool at $6.99. But I am careful at JV and sample everything that I buy from bulk to assure relative freshness.
I find California and particularly Mexican (the few times that I have tried Mexican) medjool to be so disappointing- weak in taste- that I would pass on medjool altogether so as not to be put off medjool and because of the expense if these were the only medjool that I knew. I would eat instead $2 a pound cooking dates . Different , but full flavoured and good. A good burger is better than a bad steak.