Dates All Day
This beginner’s guide to dates will sweeten your breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even snack time. We’ve got 22 delicious date recipes, plus date storage tips and info on the many varieties and products available.
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Mediterranean Kale Salad with Dates & Pine Nuts from Aegean Delight
Humans and dates go waaaaaay back. Archaeological evidence suggests we embraced wild dates millennia ago, and have been cultivating them for at least 6,000 years. Researchers even managed to grow date palms from seeds that were dormant for almost 2000 years — and after nearly a decade and a half, the trees bore fruit! If the growers are able to successfully scale up production as they hope to do, we may even be able to satisfy our sweet tooth with dates related to those ancient seeds.
While their natural sweetness is an obvious part of their appeal, dates are more than just a ready source of energy. Unlike most other table sugar alternatives, the candy-like fruits are fiber-rich, and a good source of nutrients including potassium, magnesium, and several antioxidants, among others.
Given our ancient relationship with dates, it’s no wonder that they’ve got broad cultural and religious significance, too. Throughout date growing regions, including the Middle East and North Africa, the dates have been used as both food and medicine for centuries, and remain a fixture at regular meals and all types of celebrations. Dates and date palms are mentioned many times in both the Torah and Qur’an, and the fruit and tree have special significance in Judaism and Islam. The sweet fruits have a special place on the table during Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and throughout Ramadan during Iftar (the evening break fast meal). Date-based treats are also popular celebratory sweets during the Hindu Diwali festival.
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The deets on dates:
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There are hundreds of date varieties, but in the U.S., Medjools and Deglet Noors are the easiest to find, thanks in part to date growers in California and Arizona. Dates are harvested at various stages of ripeness. Outside of date-growing regions, it’s unusual to spot fresh, semi-ripe green or yellow (kalal) dates, thanks to their fleeting season. If you’re able to get your hands on these crisp, thin-skinned dates, try to use them soon after harvest and keep them refrigerated — they’ll continue to ripen to the rutab stage during which they’ll turn a darker reddish brown, and take on a soft, smooth texture. (If you order directly from a grower, you can sometimes get dates harvested at the rutab stage.) Most dates sold in the U.S. are at the sun-ripened tamr stage. These are drier, chewier, and deeply flavored, so we tend to think of them as dried fruits.
Here are some of the more readily available varieties:
Medjool dates are one of the most popular varieties in the US. They’re large, plump, and glossy, with a chocolatey hue. They’ve usually got pits, but they’re very easy to remove. Thanks to their size, they’re ideal for stuffing with cheese, chocolate, almond butter, or other seed or nut butters.
Deglet Noor dates are smaller and firmer, with a more delicate, honeyed flavor.
Halawi dates are amber-hued, with a soft texture and sweet, caramel flavor.
Barhi are little dates that have a soft, lush texture and caramel-like flavor.
Dates are available in a few forms. Whole dates are sold either with or without their pits. You’ll also find the fruit chopped into small bits for baking, though these are usually dry, thanks to the rice flour coating often used to prevent sticking. Date paste is simply pitted, pureed dates and makes a good shortcut in recipes like date bars, energy bites, and date balls; Date Lady is a good source.
Silan (aka date syrup, date honey, or date molasses), is a thick, rich syrup made by slowly simmering soaked dates, straining out the solids, and reducing the liquid into a thick concentrate. It can be used straight or mixed into recipes.
Date sugar is made from dried and ground dates. It has a granular texture, almost like dried-out brown sugar. Since it retains the fruits’ fiber, it doesn’t really dissolve, so isn’t ideal for sweetening beverages. But it’s a nice choice for sprinkling on porridge or yogurt, or for using in baked goods such as fruit crisps.
Where to buy dates
Supermarkets, health food stores, and Middle Eastern markets are reliable sources for Medjool and sometimes Deglet Noor dates. But if you want to expand your horizons with different varieties or freshly harvested dates, try ordering direct from the grower or a company that specializes in dates. Oasis Date Gardens offers a wide selection of dates grown on ranches from California to Arizona, along with some imported varieties.
Coachella’s Best (the dates, not the music fest!) offers Medjools, along with the harder-to-find Barhi and Zahidi varieties. And for dates along with date products, including syrup, sugar, and a host of date-based spreads and condiments, check out the Date Lady.
How to store dates
Thanks to their high sugar content you can keep dates in the pantry or at cool room temperature for 1 to 2 weeks, but for optimal freshness, it’s better to refrigerate or freeze them. They’ll keep well in the fridge for up to two months (they’ll start to dry out after that) or in the freezer for up to a year. Dates’ sugar content keeps them from freezing solid, so they don’t take long to thaw.
If you see white, powdery dots or crystals on the surface of your dates, don’t fret — that’s date sugar, not mold, and it’s safe to eat. Just know that once you see that crystallization, it means your dates are getting a little old and/or aren’t being optimally stored.
If your dates are really dried out, you can soften them by soaking in warm water, or wrapping in a damp tea towel and warming them for a few seconds in the microwave.
Easy sweet treats with dates
While eating dates out of hand is always a good option, these easy recipes prove you don’t have to do much to transform them into something extra-enticing
Use your favorite non-dairy milk in these 5-ingredient shakes. Medjool dates give these icy refreshers a butterscotchy vibe.
If you need a sweet, yet nutritious pick-me-up, these little no-bake bonbons are a great option. The egg-, soy-, and dairy-free recipe uses sunflower butter; omit the pecans to make it nut-free.
Drizzle this delectable vegan date caramel over cake and ice cream, swirl it into yogurt or oatmeal, use it as a dip for fruit or cheese, or eat it straight off the spoon.
This easy recipe is a traditional Diwali treat. The mosaic-like pistachio- and cashew-studded slices would also be a lovely addition to cheese plates or charcuterie boards.
Can’t wait for the next Girl Scout cookie sale to get your Samoa fix? These homemade, added-sugar-free doppelgangers will get you through.
Baking with dates
Bakers take note: That cream cheese-slathered 1960s-style date bread isn’t the only game in town. Here’s a short list of some of our faves.
Caramelized dates top this gorgeous cardamom- and rosewater-scented cake. It’s an ode to the Sephardic Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) celebrations of Tannaz Sassooni’s childhood, but it’s delicious any time of year.
Mediterranean cuisine fans will love this dairy-free version of the classic pastry. Dates enrich the nutty filling and date syrup replaces the usual honey or sugar syrup. Tip: Don’t use metric measures? Click the “Read Directions” link — the recipe includes conversions to U.S. measures.
Bright citrus, warming spices, and the mellow caramel sweetness of dates are the breakfast/teatime pastry trifecta we didn’t realize we needed — and can’t wait to devour.
If you’re looking for an unapologetic sugar rush, this date-filled spin on a Thanksgiving classic gilds the lily with maple syrup and brown sugar.
Silan (date honey) recipes
Israel is known as a “land flowing with milk and honey,” but the Torah wasn’t talking about bees — archaeologists and food historians believe the honey in question was silan, or date honey
If you can’t find silan in your favorite market (or you love a DIY), Tori Avey walks you through making your own — and offers up some delicious date history on the side.
Date syrup isn’t a traditional addition to teriyaki sauce, but it’s a great complement to soy sauce’s umami notes. The rice flour-battered tofu and cauliflower can be baked or fried; choose gluten-free tamari if you need to keep the dish totally gluten-free.
Silan is a flavorful replacement for simple syrup in this rum cocktail spiked with orange bitters.
Date sugar recipes
Date sugar is made from dried, pulverized dates. It works nicely in fruit-based desserts, and condiments, where its gentle sweetness and subtle flavor tend to complement the recipe ingredients well.
Date sugar adds a hint of caramel-like sweetness to this free-form peach tart. If you don’t want to make your own pastry, use store-bought pie crust.
This simple, nutritious crisp is loaded with fresh blueberries and whole-grain oats — and sweetened only with date sugar.
Sliced thin and dehydrated in the oven, these date sugar-sweetened, cinnamon-spiced apples transform into satisfyingly crunchy chips.
This homemade BBQ sauce ditches refined sugar in favor of dates and date sugar for a better-for-you version of the multi-purpose condiment.
Savory salads and snacks with dates
With their chewy texture and honeyed flavor, dates make a great accent to salads and savory snacks
If you need enticement to eat your veggies, this dish sweetens the deal with dates, couscous, and crunchy toasted pine nuts. FYI, 190° C converts to 375° F.
This throwback recipe is a cocktail party appetizer classic, and with just 3 ingredients, it’s easy to play with adaptations. Try lamb, turkey, or veggie bacon, or swap in goat cheese or Parmesan.
Warm dates and a sprightly tahini-lemon dressing make this simple salad shine.
Don’t feel limited by their “nature’s candy” nickname — dates are remarkably delicious in savory dishes, too. If your love for dates is turning serious, it’s time to invite them to dinner.
A tamarind-tamari baste, fresh mint, and dates bring bold flavor to succulent broiled flank steak and roasted veggies for an easy weeknight dinner upgrade.
Chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s take on The Silver Palate Cookbook’s well-loved recipe replaces the prunes and brown sugar in the original dish with dates and silan.
Serve this Moroccan cuisine-inspired chickpea tagine over couscous for a delicious vegan meal. If you don’t have time to soak and cook dried chickpeas, you can substitute drained canned ones — 2 (25-ounce) cans should do the trick.
Looking for more sweet alternatives?
Dates are just one delicious option for sweetening your food. Check out some other ways below.