Hello, I’m Beth and I’m a grocery store addict. When I have free time, shopping in specialized or ethnic grocery stores makes me as giddy as a kid in a candy store.
My favorite Middle Eastern store is so packed with interesting spices and specialty food items that it’s like sensory overload for me.
But there’s an upside to my fetish. Frequently I discover new flavors and naturally unprocessed food items to incorporate into my eating and cooking that I might not discover otherwise.
Dates, for example, appear in many Middle Eastern cuisines and can be used for any meal and in sweet and savory applications. In fact, the medjool date can be so sweet and luscious that my husband actually asked if they were candy. And as it turns out you can coax that naturally sweet goodness out of those dates and create date syrup or molasses.
If you already use agave nectar, maple syrup, or honey as a sweetener instead of refined white or brown sugar, it’s time to add date syrup to the list as well.
Once you taste it, you’ll wonder where this fruity natural sweetener has been all your life.
In August, Sarene Wallace and I challenged our virtual cooking community, Tasting Jerusalem, to cook with date syrup and we ended up with so many interesting uses ranging from sweet to savory and applicable to every meal of the day. Read the August Tasting Jerusalem post for more in depth background information on this molasses-like ingredient. I’ll concentrate here on how to make your own with links to several easy recipes using it.
In addition, there are several brands of date syrup available either in Middle Eastern markets or online which contain no preservatives or added sugar, so purchasing it is indeed an option. But homemade is easy and worth the minimal effort.
The basic process is to boil medjool dates and water until the dates begin to break up and the water volume reduces. Then you strain the mixture, preferably through cheesecloth so you can wring every bit of syrupy sweet goodness out of the dates. Then depending on how much liquid you have left and its taste and consistency, you can then reduce that liquid, usually by about half to either a syrupy consistency or even thicker to a molasses-like consistency. Then just use the liquid as you might use maple syrup. It packs a similar amount of sweetness and can be substituted one-for-one in any recipe or creation where you might use maple syrup.
When I first bought a jar, I poured it on waffles, yogurt, and ice cream; used it to sweeten smoothies; and subbed it for maple syrup in a granola recipe. But don’t shy away from using it for savory dishes as well. Here are lots of ideas to get you started. These recipes will keep you coming back to your newfound sweet companion over and over again. And if you become addicted to it, you can thank me.
How about these incredibly simple Chicken Wings with Date Syrup by another unprocessed contributor, Hannah from the blog Blue Kale Road.
Or how about this recipe from the Washington Post for Chicken Baked with Date Syrup and Pomegranate Molasses (remember my October Unprocessed guest post from last year?). This recipe is also simple enough for a mid-week meal, and you could include Roasted Delicata Squash as a side dish.
And of course it would be an ideal addition to a salad dressing. Here’s an idea of how to use it in a refreshing salad course, this one a tangy Middle Eastern creation by Michele Kayal of the bog The Hyphenated Chef.
Here’s a perfect snack application: Mix the date syrup with tahini (a Middle Eastern sesame paste) and you will have the “peanut butter” of the Middle East. Spread it on your favorite peanut butter receptacle and munch away!
Want to use it in a smoothie? Try my Date Smoothie inspired by Louisa Shafia’s Date Shake from her book The New Persian Kitchen. Sub in date syrup for the honey (though you need little since there are dates in the smoothie already!)
How about a mocktail using date syrup – Samantha from the blog The Little Ferraro Kitchen offers this wonderful Middle Eastern inspired drink called Jallab.
Here’s that granola recipe I mentioned above – Pumpkin Pie Granola Sweetened with Date Syrup.
How To Make Date Syrup
Equipment to have on hand:
- cheesecloth ideally, but just a fine mesh strainer will work too
- fine mesh strainer
- medium saucepan
- big bowl that strainer fits over
- 20 medjool dates pitted
- 3 cups water
Put the dates and water in a medium saucepan on medium high heat to bring to a boil. Then turn the heat down to med low and allow the mixture to simmer. If you see foam appearing on the top, skim it off (same thing you do when making soup stock or jam). Using a wooden spoon, mix occasionally and smash the dates with the back of the spoon. After about 15 minutes of simmering, take it off the heat and let it cool.
Now set your strainer lined with cheesecloth on the top of the bowl and pour the mixture through. Use the wooden spoon to coax much of the liquid out of the dates. Then wrap the cheesecloth around the date mixture and wring it out as you might a wet rag. The liquid will keep coming. Don’t leave any behind.
At this point, I was left with about 1 2/3 cup of sweet goodness. Give it a taste to get an idea of the sweetness. Mine was yummy but too thin and not quite intense enough yet. I poured the liquid back into the pot I was using (but cleaned) and brought it back up to a boil. Then I reduced the heat to medium low to maintain a low boil and reduced it down to about ¾ cup of liquid. This took about 20 minutes. You don’t need to be standing over it the whole time – put a timer on and check it every five minutes or so. If you note on a spatula at the start how high the liquid is when you dip it in, you can use that spatula to get a sense of how much you have reduced as you boil it down. Or, just use your taste buds and eyeballs and a spoon. When it starts to coat the back of a spoon, it’s getting thicker. When it tastes more intensely sweet, it is reduced. I stopped at a syrupy consistency – it tasted just like liquid dates, exploding with sweet flavor in my mouth. So I took it off the stove, let it cool, and bottled up the liquid goodness, storing it in the fridge for safe keeping.
About the Author
Beth Lee is the kitchen-table storyteller you wish lived next door. Formally a Silicon Valley marketing professional, in 2010 Beth realized she’d rather talk about pita chips than memory chips and started her food blog OMG! Yummy. Beth is also a freelance writer, teaches cooking classes, and co-leads a worldwide virtual cooking community called Tasting Jerusalem that explores Middle Eastern Cuisine. You can find Beth talking about food on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.
You are awesome. Thank you so much for all the help you have gave me. My date syrup is still a little to thick. My fault. Lol I was to tired last night to keep going. I strained it and put it in the frig. I may or may not try to add more water and try again today. I can’t thank you enough for your support yesterday.
I made the chocolate chip cookies wow amazing. My neighbor went craz you for them and so did I. Have a great day.
Hi Patti! We’re happy to help. Glad the cookies turned out great. 🙂
Well I made some date past from a 2lb box od medjool dates. I used a method I saw on line. I put the chopped dates in 2 glass jars with apex 3/4 cup of water and put it in the microwave for about 1and 1/2 min give or take them put in my food processor till smoothe. I then put it in the frig. I really wanted the syrup. Then I saw your great recipe. Can I take the paste out of the jars and add some water and cook it down to get syrup after I did this. If so how much water do I need to use. I love your recipes. I have to be gluten free and am healing a leaky gut. I need to stay low glycemic so this is perfect.
Thanks so much
I have started making this in my InstantPot with a strainer in it. I place my dates in the strainer in the liner. Pour in the water, cook on Manual for 10 minutes, then do a Quick Release. Use either an immersion blender or a potatoe masher to mash the dates. Then, remove the strainer to a bowl, continue to mash the dates until no water is left. Then, add the liquid in the bowl to the rest on the liner. Then, I boil. Makes it so easy! And so good!!!
wow, this sounds amazing. I will have to give this a try, thank you. How long will this last in the fridge and can it be frozen?
Hi sande – Hmmm – I would say in the fridge for quite a while but to be safe I’ll say 2-4 weeks. But I’m sure I would keep it even longer. Re freezing – that is a good question. I haven’t tried it but I bet that would work as well. I can’t see why not as long as you package it properly to prevent ice crystals and store for 3 – 6 months.
Hi Beth I forgot to mention on making the date syrup from the date paste I made yesterday. It also said to put a tsp of Vinela and 1/4 tsp sea salt. So I added 2 of each since I had 2 jars. I’m trying to make the syrup and I’m making your chocolate chip cookies. They sound yummy. Andrew forwarded my email to you but I left this part out. Help!!!
Hi Patti! Well – I’m going to be guessing here but here is what I would do. Put it all in a heavy-bottomed pot that will leave plenty of room for added water. Hard to say how much water to add but enough to cover it plus I’d say at least an inch or two above depending how wide or tall your pot is. My guess is that since you saved all the goodness from what you made that you can still coax this down to a delicious syrupy goodness. Keep it at a low boil for a while – start with 15 or 20 minutes and keep checking the water level and dip a spoon in and taste the liquid. Once you stop cooking and strain it all out, if it’s not thick enough or deep enough in flavor – put the liquid back in the pot as I… Read more »
Ooh, what to do with the dates which are left???
Just come back from shopping where I had spied a healthy granola sweetened with date syrup. I love making from scratch but good to know the bought stuff is good too x
Will be trying this later in the week x
So I just tried making it for the first time. I didnt find medjool dates so I purchased others that were pitted. The syrup is dark and not red, more like a brownish color. Do you have an idea why?
Can´t wait to try it and rate the recipe.
For any with historical interests, here are two medieval recipes, one which uses date syrup, one which uses dates: Hulwa Ibn al-Mabrad p.19 (15th c.) Its varieties are many. Among them are the sweets made of natif. You put dibs [date syrup], honey, sugar or rubb [thick fruit syrup] in the pot, then you put it on a gentle fire and stir until it takes consistency. Then you beat eggwhite and put it with it and stir until it thickens and becomes natif. After that, if you want almond candy you put in toasted almonds and ‘allaftahu; that is, you bind them. walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, toasted chickpeas, toasted sesame, flour. [apparently alternative versions]. You beat in the natif until it thickens. For duhniyyah you put in flour toasted with fat. As for … [other versions.] Hais al-Baghdadi p. 214 (13th c.) Take fine dry bread, or biscuit, and grind up… Read more »
I never have gotten around to making the first recipe mentioned above, but I can heartily recommend the second! I’ve been making those for years, to rave reviews.
I am giving this a try now — my dates are boiling on the stove. I am tempted to make the syrup and add in the blender. Thank you for all the great comments/guidance. Also, this morning, I made oatmeal and added dates as it cooked– I think I added 6 dates to a recipe for 3 servings — not enough dates. Still good, though husband thought not sweet enough.
Love the idea of using in oatmeal. I often throw some in smoothies and boy would I love to have a jar to use on pancakes this morning! Hope it’s turning out great Michelle.
I love this recipe! What an amazing alternative to processed sugar…And with a great date taste to boot! I have a blog dedicated to sugar-free, oil-free whole food plant-based recipes, check it out.
Hi Lari, so glad you like the flavor. I think I mentioned in the post that I compared it to a jar I bought at the Middle Eastern market and while that was pure dates, the freshly made was so much better! Good luck with your blog!
this is pure deliciousness and smells so good when it’s cooking! Thank you for the recipe!
Yah! So glad to hear it! Thanks for letting us know. Now I am getting excited to make some again myself.