Photo right: Erica Schlather, Mountgrove Arcadia Black Sphinx DatesAn old alternative to sugar...that's new again!
Cultivation of date palms goes back more 8000 years. Both dates and date syrup are mentioned in ancient texts. The Hebrews considered date palm “the tree of life.”
Date palms adorned the walls of King Solomon’s temple. Some varieties of date palms were allegedly grown solely for their leaves and used in the celebration of Palm Sunday in Italy and Spain. The Koran also contains references to dates.Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia lead the world in date production although the palms also thrive in Algeria, Egypt, The French Riviera, Greece, Morocco, Sudan, Spain, Sicily and Tunisia, Arizona and California.
A whole food sweetener
Late last year one of my readers told me about Organics Are For Everyone, a company that produces and sells date syrup. I checked their web site, ingredients, and packaging, then requested samples to experiment with.
Date syrup qualifies as a whole food. It has only one ingredient: itself! In this case not just dates but 100% organic dates. It looks and pours like molasses and has a rich, complex flavor. It’s less sweet than honey, agave nectar, or maple syrup. It makes a great alternative to processed sugar in cooking and baking. You can also use it as a topping for foods that would normally go with honey or maple syrup.
What’s in it for you?
Like whole dates, date syrup contains modest amounts of potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, riboflavin, niacin, folate, phosphorus, pantothenic acid, and vitamin B-6. Ounce for ounce, dates contain more potassium than bananas.
Photo right: Organics Are For EveryoneDrizzle date syrup over any of the following:
- Hot oatmeal in place of brown sugar
- Pancakes or waffles topped with berries
- Plain (full-fat) yogurt or Greek yogurt
- Frozen yogurt
- Fruit salad
- Soft goat cheese topped with toasted pecans or walnuts
- Crisp flat bread or crackers (with soft goat cheese with or without toasted nuts)
- Mixed with roasted almond butter and spread on toast or baked brown rice Mochi
- Grilled or roasted meat
- Ice cream or frozen yogurt
- Fruit popsicles
- Chocolate sauces
- Marinades for meat
- Fruit smoothies and protein shakes
- Cookie, cake, brownie, and granola bar recipes
- Muffin and quick bread recipes
- Candied nuts, pralines, and other confections
Here’s what I made with date syrup
- Crispy Sesame Bars
- Pralined Pumpkin Seeds
- Grain-free Paleo Pumpkin Muffins
- Banana Almond Flour Muffins
- Banana Mesquite Muffins
- Paleo Pumpin Muffins with Mesquite
- Karly’s Carob Sauce (from my Ice Dream Cookbook)
Photos right: Chef Rachel Albert, Copyright 2010I’m planning to experiment more with this delightfully delicious syrup. If you try it, let me know what you make and enjoy with it!
Pumpkin Seed Pralines (see variations below for more ideas)
Hands-on: 20 minutes Cooking: 20 to 25 minutes Yield: 1 1/4 cups; 20 servings
Consider making a double, triple, or quadruple batch of these crunchy candied nuts. They’re extremely versatile. I got the idea from Debra Lynn Dadd’s website, Sweet Savvy. I replaced sugar or evaporated cane juice with honey or maple syrup and the cream with coconut milk. If you leave out the coconut milk, the nuts will be even more crunchy.
FYI: I don’t recommend eating handfuls of these in a single sitting...unless you have high energy needs. Half a cup of nuts packs 300 to 400 calories before you add syrup or coconut milk. These crunchy, sweet nuts make a great garnish for green salads, fruit salads, or coarsely chopped and added to the ice cream maker during the last two minutes of churning or as a garnish at the table. They do make a great dessert in moderation, though!
Note: This recipe works with a variety of different sweeteners, nuts, and seeds. Use light colored honey for a mild flavor; use a darker honey for a stronger flavor. Maple syrup, sorghum syrup, and brown rice syrup work equally well; each has a slightly different flavor. Maple syrup and date syrup contains less sugar than other syrups; they're good choices if you prefer less sugar and a less sweet taste.
- 1 cup shelled raw green pumpkin seeds (aka pepitas); Do not use the seeds from a fresh pumpkin—they contain a tough outer shell that is difficult to digest. (see variations below)
- 1/4 cup honey, maple syrup, light sorghum syrup, brown rice syrup or date syrup
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened, preservative-free coconut milk (regular, not lite), optional
- 1/4 teaspoon finely ground, unrefined sea salt (Redmond Real Salt or Celtic Sea Salt), optional
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, apple pie spice or pumpkin pie spice or 1 tablespoon whole or coarsely powdered fennel seeds
- Preheat an oven or toaster oven to 350˚ F.
- Line a 9-inch cake pan or pie plate, a 9x12- or 8x10-inch baking pan, or a rimmed baking sheet with unbleached parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
- Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir to thoroughly coat the nuts. Scrape the mixture (nuts and all the liquid) onto the prepared pan. With a lightly greased flexible spatula or large spoon, spread the nuts one layer deep.
- Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Stir, then bake for another 5 to 10 minutes until the coating looks dry. Check frequently after the first 10 minutes; nuts burn quickly.(Seeds take less time than nuts.)
- Remove the pan from the oven. Let cool for 5 minutes, and then turn the nuts over using one or two heatproof spatulas. Bake 5 to 7 more minutes to crisp the other side. Place the tray on a rack to cool.
- When cool enough to handle, break the nuts apart or place them on a cutting board and chop into 1/4-inch pieces. Store in a covered glass bowl or jar in the refrigerator. Use within 3 months for best results.
1 tablespoon (w/coconut milk): 59 calories, 0.5 grams protein, 4.7 grams carbohydrate (grams fiber), 4.2 grams fat, 1 milligrams sodium
1 tablespoon (w/out coconut milk): 56 calories, 0.5 grams protein, 4.6 grams carbohydrate (grams fiber), 3.9 grams fat, milligrams calcium, milligrams sodium
* Almond Pralines: Replace pecan halves with shelled, raw, whole almonds.
* Cashew Pralines: Replace pecan halves with shelled, raw, whole cashews.
* Pecan Pralines: Replace pumpkin seeds with pecan halves.
* Sesame Seed Pralines: Replace pecan halves with shelled, raw, unhulled brown or black sesame seeds. For a colorful effect, use a combination of the black and brown sesame seeds. These pralines will clump up more than whole nuts but they’ll still taste great.
Source: The Ice Dream Cookbook: Dairy-Free Ice Cream Alternatives with Gluten-Free Cookies, Compotes & Sauces by Rachel Albert-Matesz (Planetary Press, 2008).