1. Find the right partner
As with any love story, finding the right partner is the foundation for any fruitful (pun intended) relationship. The typical supply chain of dates entails a grower, who either grows conventional or organic Medjool dates, a trusted marketing brand that distributes the products and last but not least a seller, who retails them to the end consumer. In this case, the partners are Zorganika, an organic plantation, the marketing brand Medjool Plus and our humble self, KoRo.
As one of our well-informed costumers you may wonder: why would we choose to visit an organic plantation, from which we do not even source our delicious Medjool dates (yet)? At this point in time, we only source conventional Medjool dates, which we receive from our long-standing marketing partner Medjool Plus. Medjool Plus, however, works in close cooperation with many different plantations and Zorganika, one of the largest organic date plantations in the West Bank, is one of their trusted and long-standing partners. Their close and experienced cooperation serves as a perfect example for a well-established supply chain. And thanks to their openness and a mutually strong belief in transparency towards the end consumer, they granted us this remarkable and insightful experience – once again, thank you so much for this opportunity!
“As we grow as companies, we grow in our cooperation. Medjool Plus is an expert in exporting dates and the organic plantation Zorganika produces high quality Medjool dates – a perfect match.” - Yaron Among Medjool Plus
Before we head over to the next step, you may ask yourself why we don’t shorten the supply chain and source our Medjool Dates directly from the grower. The reason for that lies in the strict division of responsibility within the supply chain. This triadic process has become a standard procedure. But who knows, perhaps we will be able to try out alternative approaches some time in the near future.
2. Love, care and patience
Let’s address the growing and handling of dates in further detail, as we popped in for a visit at Zorganika. The organic planation founded by Kevin and Ayala in 1993 lies at the heart of the Jordan Valley in the West Bank. It becomes apparent that this agricultural realization requires a lot of dedication and love, which Kevin and Ayala, along with their children, have invested over the last two decades. On our way, we reached a breathtaking overlook with a view onto their planation, their life’s work, over 1,000 dunams of Medjool dates.
The plantation looks symmetrical, planned and precise. There are well-tended trees; each has a sticker documenting the number of dates it has produced. The branches are tied up in bunches and each bunch is labeled with the number of fruits it carries. Their coworker Jeannie explains how the trees are tended organically, how they are nourished with compost, how they are watered, how the fruit is supervised and how wild boars are kept away. This is where it gets extra cute, because at Zorganika they use barn owls to help them keep the rodent population under control and balance their ecosystem in an organic manner.
Happy Jeannie with a cute barn owl
By now, 250-300 workers of different nationalities, such as Thai, Palestinian, Israeli, work at Zorganika. With telescopic cranes they check in on the fruits regularly and apply different growth enhancing methods throughout the harvest.
Here you can see a telescopic crane which the workers use to get the dates from the palm trees
One thing is for certain: growing dates should not be left to the impatient characters out there. Love takes time, and so do juicy Medjool dates. In fact, it is not until their seventh year that palm trees start to grow their first fruits. Once they start to carry these juicy bonbons, it is important to maintain a growth enhancing sun-shade ratio. As Jeannie explains, a lot of “thinning” is required. This means that at least 2/3 of the palm tree branches are cut off in order to get the date size that the market wants. The more sun they receive, the faster and bigger they can grow. Older trees may carry more branches than the younger ones as they have become sturdier over the years. Usually, the fruitful bunches start to come out by the end of February. That’s when the pollinating process starts. At Zorganika, they pollinate their palm trees by using an air pump. Interestingly, the amount of branches emerging in spring may serve as a good indicator of how well the harvest is going. A mature palm tree produces about 18-23 bunches. However, not all of the bunches may be kept. Depending on the general condition of the respective tree and how good the dates look throughout the growing process, the thinning may entail getting rid of up to 5-8 bunches per tree.
Jeannie showing us a bunch that had to be removed throughout the thinning process because it was not ripe enough due to its weak branches (Piran, Jeannie, Yaron f. l. t. r.)
Next up, the branches must be tied up. Each bunch carries a certain amount of branches, which in turn carry the fruits. The branches are fairly flexible, so they can be carefully bent and tied. As the season progresses, the dates become juicier and therefore heavier, which means that tying up the bunches prevents the branches from breaking. Then, the workers are busy dressing the branches in sacks in order to prevent insects from picking at the fruits. The dates not only change in size, but in color, too, as they turn from a flashy green to a bright yellow, and from yellow to a certain shade of brown, almost like a nice light honey color.
Different stagen of the ripening process
The drier they get, the darker they become. Once every seven days, the workers check on each tree in order to align the growth process with their specifications. Each worker sticks his or her specific working number on the bunches and/or branches in order to simplify the tracking process. Each tree carries about 100kg of dates by the end of each harvest at the organic planation, the conventional will get more. 90% of the company’s products are designated for export. Let’s take a closer look at the export process in our next step.
3. Size does not matter
Contrary to common belief, in this kind of love game size does not matter. It is rather the amount of loose skin, which defines the quality of the Medjool date. At Zorganika, the exclusive quality control takes place with the aid of a newly imported assembly line from Italy. This highly intelligent computer differentiates between the different types of quality of the Medjool dates, depending on the loose skin ratio.
The harvest of Medjool dates is once a year between September and December. After they’ve been picked, they are stored frozen and directly on site in cooling houses. From there, they are passed on to the packing houses, Zorganika has two of those on their lot.
Frozen Medjool Dates "Bonbon" on their way to the packing house
Generally, you need to consider three different dimensions, in which Medjool dates may be classified.
3.1 Ratio of loose skin: As already mention, the loose skin ratio is an important factor in distinguishing the level of quality. You may use the following classification in order to differentiate between the Medjool dates you find on the market:
- Premium (black carton) loose skin rate: <5%
- Choice (orange carton) loose skin rate: <15%
- Supreme (red carton) loose skin rate: <25%
Do you find these names confusing by any chance? We can assure you, you are not alone. We asked our Medjool date marketing partner, why the naming creates so much confusion. He assured us that in all cases we are referring to high quality Medjool dates. However, the marketing department has to come up with certain names in order to distinguish between the different categories of dates.
3.2 Degree of dryness: Another dimension you need to consider when you chose a date, we like to call the “degree of dryness”.Depending on the time of harvest, Medjool dates may vary in their succulence or rather degree of dryness. On the Euopean market, most of us are familiar with a Standard type of Medjool date. It is marked by a rather high degree of dryness. The Bonbon, in contrast, is extremely moist and juicy due to its particularly low degree of dryness. But maybe you’d enjoy the Exquisito the most, which basically lies in between the above-mentioned types and has a middle degree of dryness.
3.3 Size: Last, but not least, you should consider the size at least to a certain extent. Although we proudly stand with the slogan “size does not matter”, as with any fruit, dates also come in different sizes in each category of quality. Namely, medium, large, and jumbo.
“Oh my gosh, after eating this you will never have toffees again“
One of the perks of visiting a Medjool Date plantation: free dates everywhere! Being the gourmet he is, our managing director Piran took every chance he got to conduct an on-site tasting. Consistency as well as flavor was spectacular!
4. Stay open-minded and adventurous
Sharing our journey with you has not only revealed the main steps you need to follow in order to get a delicious date, but also granted an insight on the vast diversity of Medjool dates. The different degrees of dryness affect the succulence as well as the taste of a Medjool date. And as with any object of desire, it is a matter of personal preference. Thus, we encourage you to stay open-minded and adventurous throughout your Medjool date-ing experience.
“Different countries, different favorites”
Interestingly, one can claim that the taste in Medjool dates differs from region to region. In Germany, for example, many people prefer the Medjool date. Our Israeli Medjool Plus Partner Yaron, however, claims that Exquisito is his all-time favorite. Which one do you like best? You never know if you don’t try! Go ahead, and start your tasting journey with KoRo. Here are a few links for you to check out!
Enjoy and stay sweet!
How do you store Medjool dates?
Dates are fresh produce so we recommend storing them in an airtight container either in the fridge (up to 6 months) or at room temperature (a couple of weeks), if you know you will use them up rather quickly. As they age, the sugars in the date will gradually move to the surface, forming little sugar white spots. Fret not, these are not mold!
Gourmet Tipp: Store them in the freezer. Let them thaw for a couple of minutes before you eat them – best natural ice cream there is!
How do you eat Medjool dates?
No worries, there is no wrong way to eat a Medjool date and there are a ton of different uses. In fact, we think that dates are one of the best versatile fruits and may serve as a great way to naturally sweeten your dishes, whether they are savory or sweet. You could slice them up and add them to your daily porridge bowl, use them as sweetener for your smoothies or cocktails or just simply dunk them in nut butter as a snack to send your taste buds on a wild ride of deliciousness. But be aware of the pit, as dates are stone fruits. You can easily exchange the pit with a walnut, or any nut of your choice, to add a little crunch. For further information and inspiration check out our food journal, where you can find more fun facts about dates as well as delicious recipes.