Sphinx Date Co. and ASU partnership brings locally grown dates to Phoenix | Phoenix New Times
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Fall is date season in Phoenix. One local partnership champions rare varieties of the fruit

"There's a whole world of dates," says Sphinx Date Co. co-owner Rebecca Seitz. She's working with ASU to share their uniquely Arizona flavors.
Sphinx Date Co. and Arizona State University have again teamed up to share unique, lesser-known dates. ASU Professor Deborah Thirkhill and Sphinx Date Co. Palm & Pantry owners Rebecca and Sharyn Seitz show the results of a harvest of Barhee dates from 2021.
Sphinx Date Co. and Arizona State University have again teamed up to share unique, lesser-known dates. ASU Professor Deborah Thirkhill and Sphinx Date Co. Palm & Pantry owners Rebecca and Sharyn Seitz show the results of a harvest of Barhee dates from 2021. Deanna Dent
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Across the country, fall ushers in flavors of pumpkins, apples and pears. In Arizona, it's time for dates.

This harvest season, Sphinx Date Co. Palm & Pantry and Arizona State University’s Polytechnic Campus have again teamed up to share unique, lesser-known dates with curious epicures.

Starting in October, Sphinx Date Co. anticipates it will begin receiving dates from the ASU Polytechnic Date Palm Germplasm – a grove of 140 date palm trees in Mesa that serves as an ark of rare date species.

The grove represents the largest date palm collection of any public garden in the country, featuring more than 40 varieties of dates that were first imported and grown in Phoenix in the late 1800s, says Sphinx Date Co. co-owner Rebecca Seitz.

“[ASU is] growing some kinds that you won’t find anywhere else,” Seitz says.

Through the partnership, Sphinx Date Co. will process, package and exclusively sell these specialty dates. Proceeds from the sale benefit the ASU program.

“It’s fun now to be able to bring attention to that … to the students and also the larger community that there is this cool public garden that is growing some of the most unique dates in the U.S. here in Mesa,” says Seitz, an ASU alum who first volunteered at the grove after taking over Sphinx Date Co.
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Sphinx Date Co. Palm & Pantry will showcase a variety of rare and lesser-known dates grown in Mesa through the fall and winter. In addition to snacking, dates can be used for cooking and baking.
Sphinx Date Co. Palm & Pantry

'There’s a whole world of dates’

People are often most familiar with Medjool dates – they are the most common and popular variety, and the chewy, caramel-tasting, amber-colored date is one that Sphinx Date Co. largely sells, Seitz says. But, groves like ASU’s can help people understand the diversity of the fruit.

“There’s a whole world of dates. It’s really broadening the perspective,” Seitz says.

The dates grown by ASU showcase a range of texture, flavor and intensity of sweetness. These varieties are often referred to as soft or wet dates because “some are really, really soft, creamy, more juicy,” Seitz says.

In terms of taste, Seitz likens different dates to different kinds of sugar flavors, saying some can learn more toward maple and caramel, while others taste similar to honey or traditional sugar. That intensity of sweetness, Seitz says, can range from very rich to “milder sweetness that is more snackable.”

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Volunteers pull dates from bunches during the 2021 harvest. Sphinx Date Co. will process, package and exclusively sell these specialty dates, with proceeds from the sale benefiting the ASU program.
Deanna Dent
Professor Deborah Thirkhill, who oversees the ASU Date Palm Germplasm, estimates the entire harvest will be about 1 to 1.5 tons. Varieties available will include Barhee, Khir, Amir Hajj, Khalasa, Khadrawy, Honey, Rhars, Sphinx and the ASU date – a hybrid that was discovered by ASU Grounds Services Horticulturist Richard Harris in a Glendale backyard in 1995.

Both Seitz and Thirkhill say they gravitate toward dates that taste like rich caramel, such as the Sphinx or Khadrawy. To introduce people to these dates, Seitz says samples will be offered at Sphinx Date Co.

“Tasting them next to each other is a pretty good way to pick up the differences,” she says, adding that she plans to offer sampler packs of dates in addition to selling varieties individually.

ASU first partnered with Sphinx Date Co. to package and sell the dates in 2021. The harvest is ongoing through the fall, and new dates could be hitting shelves at the shop into 2024, Seitz says.
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The ASU Polytechnic Date Palm Germplasm is a grove of 140 date palm trees in Mesa that serves as an ark of rare date species and represents the largest date palm collection of any public garden in the country, featuring more than 40 varieties of dates.
Deanna Dent

Preserving a piece of Phoenix history

In addition to widening people’s understanding of this fruit and preserving varieties for future generations, Seitz and Thirkhill say they’re aiming to connect people to the Valley’s agricultural past.

“We want to share the history and heritage of date farming here in Phoenix,” Seitz says. “To have those different kinds really helps in telling that story.”

Maintaining the grove and harvesting of the fruits is largely volunteer-driven, Thirkhill says. People can sign up to help with the harvest in Mesa or in Tempe at ASU’s Palm Walk, where Medjools grow.

“It’s a lot of fun. It gives everybody an opportunity to work on a farm,” Thirkhill says. “Everyone gets to taste, right off the tree.”

The best way to learn about new dates arriving at the shop is to join Sphinx Date Co.’s email list or follow the company on social media, Seitz says. In addition to selling its unique dates at Sphinx Date Co., ASU will also sell its Medjool dates on the Tempe campus at the University Services Building in October, Thirkhill says.

“I think it’s a neat legacy and teaches the public how to take care of your own date palm,” Thirkhill says. “We’re trying to keep that Phoenix legacy going.”

Sphinx Date Co. Palm & Pantry

3039 N. Scottsdale Road
480-941-2261

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