First off, I love dates! I'm fascinated by them - they're so simple and yet just sweet enough to satisfy a sugar craving. Dates are also the oldest of sweeteners. They have been instrumental to humans for thousands of years and considered an essential part of the diet. Today, we add them to many desserts, in lieu of sugar, especially to yummy Walnut Brownies Chocolate Fudge Cookies or to to-die-for Chocolate Truffles.
What you may not know is that the syrup, a boiled-down date and water mash, has been used as a natural sweetener for just as long. Because the syrup is so non-complicated and so unrefined, it retains its antioxidant, antibacterial, vitamin, mineral and fibre content intact. It is also differently absorbed than other sugars, as it is slowly digested by the body and doesn't produce a spike in blood sugar levels the way, for example, agave nectar or brown rice syrup do. The syrup looks a bit like caramel or molasses, it is sweet tasting and can be used the same as honey or maple syrup. You can add it to smoothies, cookies, cakes, granola bars, use it in chicken/turkey marinades, drizzle on top of pancakes, waffles or simply spread on bread. As it is slightly sweeter than sugar, when baking, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, you should use 3/4 cups of date syrup, or you can also go by trial-and-error. Just remember, dates are still concentrated in sugars, so it’s always important to monitor the amount you're consuming.
You can purchase Date Syrup in Middle Eastern stores, where it is referred to as Silan, just make sure it is unsweetened - the ingredient list should read ‘Just Dates’. Of course, you can also make your own. Here's a simple recipe for this blissful sweetener. This will give you a small amount, just enough to get you started. If you like it, you can always double or triple the batch.
Raw Date Syrup
By Leora Barak
10 medjool dates, pitted
1 1/2 cups fresh water
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional)
Place the dates in a small bowl and cover with boiled water. Let sit for 30 minutes.
When the dates have soaked, drain the water.
Place dates, 1 1/2 cups of fresh water and lemon juice in container of high speed blender. At this point, if you like, you may add vanilla extract or cinnamon.
Blend until creamy and smooth.
Pour into a mason jar, cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.
Use it to sweeten up your goodies.