How to Use Dates in Sweet and Savory Recipes

Dates are a versatile ingredient that can be used to add an undernote of sweet and caramelly goodness to any dish, or can simply be eaten whole as a snack.

Medjool dates

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Dates are a tropical stone fruit that comes from the date palm trees that are native to Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq. In the U.S., these trees thrive in warm climates and are grown in California, Florida, and Arizona. Dates are also often used in cooking and baking as a sweetener and are also a good source of nutrients such as fiber, potassium, and iron. But aside from its nutritional value, this stone fruit has a rich history that goes back to around 4000 B.C., with documented use in the Fertile Crescent between Egypt and Mesopotamia. 

What do dates taste like? 

Dates have a deep sweetness with a flavor profile that ranges from caramel to molasses and has a soft, chewy texture. In the world of dates, there are various different types and the sweetness and flavor can vary depending on the type of date and how ripe it is. Medjool dates are larger and softer, with a rich, sweet flavor, and are often used as a dessert or snack. Deglet Noor dates are small, slightly translucent, and have a firm texture with a slightly drier, less sweet taste and are prized for their versatility and long shelf life. Khadrawy dates are much darker and have a sweet, slightly tangy flavor, and are commonly used in dishes such as halwa or date syrup. 

How to cook with dates

Dates can be eaten as a snack on their own, or used in dishes that range from baked goods like Date and Walnut Rugelach with Tahini Glaze to savory main dishes like Spiced Duck Breasts with Mandarin Oranges and Dates. With so many uses and possibilities, here’s some helpful things to know about cooking with this versatile ingredient. 

Savory recipes

A hint of sweetness can be added to savory dishes by adding dates, which can be used whole, chopped, or pureed, and used in a variety of soups, salads, and sauces. 

They make a delicious appetizer in Bacon-Wrapped Dates, where whole Medjool dates are stuffed with a blend of blue cheese, cream cheese, and toasted walnuts before being wrapped with bacon. (If you love bacon wrapped dates, also try these chorizo-filled bacon-wrapped dates.) In Thomas Keller’s recipe for Slow-Cooked Lamb With Cipolini, Dates, Kale and Almonds, whole dates are stirred into the braising dishes to offer a contrasting touch of sweetness to the lamb. Chopped dates add interest and sweet contrast in a recipe for Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Lentils and Dates.

Turning dates into a syrup or sauce can also be used in savory cooking, just as they are in baking. Dates are cooked down with rosemary and water in this Seared Duck with Date Jus and Piave Foam recipe to make a sweet date jus that pairs perfectly with the seared duck.

Sweet recipes

Dates can be used as a sweetener in baking either added in whole, as a syrup, or made into date sugar, which can be bought at markets or made at home. They can be chopped and added to cookies, breads, and other baked goods to add a touch of sweetness and texture.  

In this recipe for Date Scones with Fleur de Sel Whipped Butter, chopped dates are added to the dough before baking to give them a great texture and bite. Tupak E-Khorma (Date and Nut Truffles) are also made with whole dates that are chopped and kneaded with nut pastes before being formed into truffles. Or, you put them in a food processor to utilize their sticky texture like in this Walnut and Date Piecrust recipe or this Date Cake with Caramel Sauce.

Dates can also be used in smoothies to add a touch of sweetness. Simply blend dates with your favorite fruits, yogurt, and milk to create a stellar smoothie. Dates stuffed with mascarpone cheese and rolled in cocoa powder also make a fun, fast-fix dessert. 

Date syrup and sugar

Dates can also be used to make date syrup (also referred to as date honey, silan, or date molasses) and date sugar. 

Date syrup is a thick, sweet syrup that is commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine, and can be purchased at specialty grocery stores. Sylvie Charles, the founder of Just Date, a company that makes date syrups and date sugar, has loved and cooked with dates for most of her life. “They bring this rich sweetness and add that backdrop with sweetness without added sugar,” she says. Date syrup makes a great addition for date cakes, like in this recipe for Nutty Toffee-Date Cake where a home-made date syrup is made by simmering dates in water over moderately low heat until the dates are very soft, then pureeing them with molasses. Date syrup can also be used as a final drizzle over recipes like this Banana Challah Fritters With Sweet Tahini Sauce recipe.

Date sugar is made with dates that are dried before being finely ground in a spice grinder or food processor into a powder that resembles granulated sugar. You can use date sugar anywhere you would use other types of sugar. Charles notes, for every cup of date sugar, reduce the flour by a third cup and optionally add more moisture because the date sugar contains extra fiber.

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