If you are following my blog, you may have noticed that I replace refined sugar with date syrup in many of my recipes. That’s because date sugar undergoes the least amount of processing in comparison with other sweeteners and it has one of the highest antioxidant levels – only blackstrap molasses offers higher antioxidant value.
Date sugar is produced from the whole fruit. Dates are simply dried and finely ground with no other processing required. Date sugar is similar to brown sugar except that it does not dissolve completely. You can use it to replace brown sugar in sauces and spreads where that doesn’t matter or where colour won’t be affected, such as the dressing in the Vibrant Thai Rice Salad.
Date syrup is also made from the whole fruit. The syrup is made by simmering the dates in water until the liquid reduces and thickens. The longer the dates are simmered, the sweeter and thicker the liquid becomes, and if you are making your own, the simmering process can be stopped at any time to achieve a desired sweetness and intensity.
I use medjool dates to make date syrup. Why do I use medjool dates? Because they are known as the diamond of dates, prized for their size and their melt-in-your-mouth luscious sweet taste and for their texture. That said, other varieties work just as well, so you can use other types if you prefer.
Homemade date syrup has a lovely, subtle flavour and it is a wonderful alternative sweetener for anyone trying to remove refined sugar from their diet. It is lighter in colour, thinner, and less concentrated in terms of flavour than store-bought varieties. (Unless otherwise stated, I use my own homemade date syrup in all of the recipes in this blog; so, if you are using a commercial brand to prepare one my recipes, you will likely need to decrease the amount of date syrup called for). One of the problems I have with commercial varieties of date syrup is that some of them are made from concentrate rather than the whole fruit, which would compromise the nutritive benefits. (Not all labels provide that information). Another problem with commercial date syrup is the colour – its very dark, and this can negatively alter the colour of your food.
So, for all of the reasons mentioned above, it is fitting to post a recipe for making date syrup. Since date syrup has only one ingredient, this is more about a method than a recipe. The measurements below will yield about 3/4 – 1 cup of syrup but the recipe is easy to double or triple.
- 12 Medjool dates
- 4 cups water
You can seed the dates or not, but seeding them before simmering makes the task less messy later. Place the dates and water in a medium large saucepan and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 45 minutes. Skim off any film that settles on the surface of the water. The dates should be quite soft and mushy and the cooking water should be sweet to taste.
Scoop the dates into a sieve and holding the sieve over the pot, press as much juice out of them with the back of a spoon as you can. (I reserve the cooked dates, puree them into a paste and save them for use as a sweetener in other recipes. They can be frozen too).
Continue simmering the date water until you reach the desired consistency. The longer you simmer the water, the darker and more intense the flavour will become. I find that when I have about ¾ to 1 cup of liquid in the saucepan, the flavour and consistency is about right for me.
In the photo below, the darker syrup on the left was simmered for about 45 minutes, and the lighter coloured syrup on the right was simmered for about 15-20 minutes.
By the way, I make syrup from green grapes too. The process for making grape syrup is exactly the same. I simmer about a pound of green grapes in 4 cups of water, strain and reduce the cooking liquid to the desired consistency (just under 1 cup). The colour of grape syrup is lighter and a little less sweet than date syrup, depending on the ripeness of the grapes used to make the syrup. But it is delicious, and I find it preferable in some recipes.
Both date and grape syrups keep for a week refrigerated but they also freeze, so make extra and store some for future use.
To keep it raw, date syrup can be made by soaking 12 dates in 2 cups of water for two or three days at room temperature (you can soak them in the refrigerator if you prefer). The soaking water will sweeten after a few days at which time you can strain the liquid and use the syrup as a sweetener. The longer the dates soak, the sweeter the liquid becomes. I often leave the dates soaking for a week or more in the refrigerator. The photo below shows dates that have been soaking for about a day and a half in 2 cups of water.
By this method, the date syrup doesn’t become as dark or thick as it would if you were boiling the dates but the soaking liquid does become very sweet, and results in a terrific alternative sweetener. I find it perfect for sweetening iced tea, smoothies, and all kinds of other dishes when I want to replace refined sugar.
Date paste is a delicious, and addictive condiment! Swirl a little in your morning oatmeal, use it to fill cookies, spread it on toast, serve it with cheese and crackers, add it to a sandwich containing spring lettuces, cucumbers, avocado and tahini, for an interesting combination of sweet and salty flavours, or use it in sugar free recipes. Yum!
- 12 medjhool dates
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
Soak the dates in water for a couple of hours to soften. Remove the dates to a cutting board and reserve the soaking water.
Cut a slice down one side of each date, open it up and remove the pits. Coarsely chop the dates and place them in your blender with the lemon juice, seeds from the vanilla bean and about 1/4 cup of the soaking water to start. Blend everything together.
If the paste is to thick for the blender, add more water, a tablespoon at a time and continue to blend until the mixture is smooth. The paste doesn’t have to be completely smooth though. Visually, I quite like seeing bits of unprocessed date throughout the paste, and I like the texture.
By the way, if you have never tried a sandwich combining date paste and tahini together, please do so – the flavour is a little bit similar to natural peanut butter and jam!