A date with coffee: part II

NBR’s Dr Kevin Robinson recently met Mr Ido Zimet, a producer of date seed coffee in Israel and cofounder of Coffee Date, LLC, in the USA for a brew and a fascinating chat about coffee and his date seed coffee alternative

In part I, Ido explained: “Things really got interesting when it came to the roasting. Initially, we thought modern-day coffee roasters would do the job. The results were disappointing and nothing like what we expected!”

“So, he continues, “we had to get back to the basics to better understand the date seed. This was a colossal task. We needed to understand how different factors — genetics, environmental and agricultural factors such as time of harvest, post-harvest treatments, fertilisers, quality of irrigation water and soil mineral availability — all affected our date seed coffee."

"Eventually, we built various roasting machines from scratch that we felt could best take advantage of this amazing seed. These machines are different from modern-day coffee roasters, from the heating source to the shape of the vessel.”

But it didn’t stop there, notes Ido: “We had to understand all of the varieties of date seeds we were going to use. We had almost nothing to go on, regarding the right ratio in the blend or even the ground particle measurements. Still, some varieties could not be used for various reasons, such as their texture, taste, extraction or even for their health benefits, which we were looking to achieve with this product.”

Not all date seeds are equal

We conducted a vast amount of research. Interestingly, from a more scientific point of view, combinations of nutritional and antioxidant specificities were identified in different date seed varieties. Some varieties were better characterised by their fat and calcium content, antioxidant components, yellow-blue or red-green colour, whereas the others were characterised by their epicatechin, dietary fibre, and iron and zinc content.

“This is interesting in terms of prevention of chronic diseases such cardiovascular diseases or diabetes,” he adds: “We had to make choices. For example, the Deglet Nor date is very popular, and we felt it was a good candidate. However, we later found out that it lacks much of the health benefits of the other varieties we were working with. It turns out that the Deglet Nor is a great date seed for cosmetic use but not so potent for cardiovascular diseases like the other varieties we could be using, so we felt we had to let it go.”

So, he summarises, to answer your question: “Roasted date seeds can taste from unbearable to similar to coffee and even chocolate mocha. You really need to know what you are doing.”

Pressing Ido further, I asked him whether date seed coffee actually brews like real coffee? Absolutely, he responds, from coffee makers, French presses, Espresso machines or cold brew, it behaves exactly like “real” coffee. And in terms of providing an energy boost?

Ido explains: “Date seeds are, indeed, caffeine free. It’s only because of the little bit of premium coffee we add that there is any caffeine in our product at all. Too much caffeine can affect sleep patterns, increase your stress and blood pressure levels, etc. Date Mate gives you a natural energy boost from nutrients, not stimulants, making for a great afternoon pick-me-up.”

Health benefits

Recent studies have suggested that diet and lifestyle factors affect our cognitive health. Date palm fruits are a good source of dietary fibre and are rich in total phenolics and natural antioxidants, such as anthocyanins, ferulic acid, protocatechuic acid and caffeic acid.

These polyphenolic compounds have been shown to be neuroprotective in different model systems. Furthermore, a 2015 research paper published in J. Ayurveda Integr. Med. suggested that dietary supplementation with date fruits may have beneficial effects in lowering the risk, delaying the onset or slowing down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Preclinical studies have shown that date fruits possess free radical scavenging, antioxidant, antimutagenic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, gastroprotective, hepatoprotective, nephroprotective, anticancer and immunostimulant activities. Plus, the protein in dates contains 23 types of amino acids, some of which are not present in popular fruits such as oranges, apples and bananas.

Dates contain at least six vitamins, including a small amount of vitamin C, and vitamins B(1) thiamine, B(2) riboflavin, nicotinic acid (niacin) and vitamin A. There are at least 15 minerals in dates, and even more when you take the date seed into account.

In more general terms, the phenolic acids and flavonoids of date seeds have been shown to possess many beneficial effects, including antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, antimicrobial, antimutagenic, and anti-inflammatory activities, and the reduction of cardiovascular disease. Remarkably, the polyphenol content and antioxidant activity of date seeds is up to 10-fold higher than date fruits and other popular dietary antioxidant-rich food products such as tea extracts and grape seeds.

Date flesh contains 0.2–0.5% oil, whereas the seed contains 7.7–9.7% oil. Saturated and unsaturated fatty acids occur in both flesh and seed, including palmitoleic, oleic, linoleic and linolenic acids. The oleic acid content of the seeds varies from 41.1–58.8%, which suggests that the seeds of date could be used as a source of oleic acid.

As the dietary fibre (5.9–8.7g/100 g), phenolic (172–246mg gallic acid equivalent/100g) and antioxidant (14,600–16,200mmol Trolox equivalent/100g) content of date flesh is much lower than that of date seeds, the latter could potentially be utilised as a functional food ingredient.

Also, date seeds have been found to be rich in antiatherogenic properties. They’re rich sources of phenolic radical scavenger antioxidants, which inhibit the oxidation of LDL (the so-called "bad cholesterol") and stimulate the removal of cholesterol from lipid-laden arterial cells. It’s possible that patients suffering from atherosclerosis could potentially use date seed coffee — with their current medication — as a natural remedy together in the future.

The superfruit question

Whether dates are the next superfruit, Ido is sceptical: “You know, superfruit is just a marketing term coined back in 2005. It's expensive! It's exotic! It's abundant with antioxidants; hey, it must be a superfruit. It’s a definite plus if its “stage name” is really long in Latin too!” he says.

He continues: “I wouldn’t describe the date as a superfruit. But, for thousands of years, it’s been called the “Tree of Life.” A recognised symbol of the Kingdom of Judea, dates grew beside the Dead Sea and Jericho in the south, as well as near the Sea of Galilee and Lake Hula in the north.

The best dates were known to have come from this Biblical land. The Holy Land has been well known for its special and excellent date cultivars since ancient times, as mentioned by Pliny in the 1st century AD in his famous book Natural History.”

In closing, Ido reminds me that the Latin name for the date palm fruit is Phoenix dactylifera. In Greek mythology, the phoenix is a long-lived bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn.

It is a symbol of the sun, regeneration and resurrection. As Israel begins to re-establish itself as the number one producer of high class Medjool dates and the health benefits of date seeds are becoming better recognised, Ido is confident that the magnificent date tree is being rediscovered from the ashes. A true phoenix!

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