From homemade fruit and nut bars to vegan caramel, dates are a popular way to sweeten baked (and raw) goods naturally. Find out more about this sweet fruit in the guide below!
Grown on date palm trees, dates are found in tropical regions.
Similar to peaches and olives, dates have a single large seed that’s surrounded by an outer fleshy fruit.
While we’ll touch on storing them later on, dates have the lowest moisture content of any whole fruit, with just 30%.
If you haven’t eaten a date before, they really are like no other fruit. While quite sweet, they have a distinctive caramel flavor that makes them an excellent natural sweetener.
Similar to raisins or other dried fruits, dates have a concentrated amount of calories and sugar.
A 3.5-ounce serving contains 277 calories, 75 grams of carbohydrate, 7 grams of fiber, and 2 grams of protein.
While high in carbohydrate, dates are high in important micronutrients, including potassium, magnesium (key for bone health), copper, manganese (important for brain functioning), and vitamin B6 (needed for protein metabolism and red blood cell formation), as well as antioxidants.
You’ll also notice that dates are high in fiber, which is why despite being high in sugar, dates actually have a low glycemic index and have been shown to be beneficial for blood sugar control.
While there are several types of dates, the two that you’re most likely to come across are Deglet Noor and Medjool.
Deglet Noor dates are often more expensive, but have a sweet, delicate flavor that’s ideal for cooking and baking.
Medjool dates are the most common and what you’ll likely find in the bulk bin section. Larger than Deglet Noor dates, Medjool dates are slightly more fibrous and have a richer, sweeter flavor. While good for cooking and baking, these are your go-to’s for eating dates raw.
When buying dates, look for the harvested date as that will give you an idea of how soft or dry they will be. The more recently harvested dates will be softer and more moist.
Other things to look for include firmness and appearance. While fresh dates can be wrinkled, they should still have a slight glossy appearance and be somewhat soft when pressed (avoid any that feel hard). Also, avoid any that have sugar crystallization on the skins, as it’s a sign that they’ve been sitting around for awhile.
Dates should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 year or in a cool, dry cupboard for 3-4 months.
An important note is not to be afraid if you see little white spots appear on the skin. These aren’t mold but rather sugars that are slowly rising to the surface.
To substitute dates for sugar, it’s recommended to make a date paste by blending pitted dates with water in a high-powered blender. You can substitute date paste in a 1:1 ratio.
Besides using as a substitute for white sugar, date paste can be turned into a delicious vegan caramel, mixed with cocoa powder for frosting, or used to make raw cheesecakes.
Dates are also a great way to add sweetness to granola and granola bars, smoothies, oatmeal, salads, and stews. You can even stuff them with feta or goat cheese for a sweet and salty appetizer.
To get you started using dates, check out these THT classics:
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