Wednesday, March 6, 2013

All About Dates! Or My New Favorite Sweetener

Do you like dates? I'll be honest, up until recently my only exposure to them were the date nut quick bread my folks used to make around the holidays when I was a kid. We ate it with thick cream cheese spread on top. I also remember driving by a date farm of some sort on the way to San Diego several times in the past several years, seeing a sign advertising 'date milkshakes'.

Over the holidays this year, I decided to send my dad some homemade date nut bread. He always used a quick bread mix that is no longer available and I wanted to make him something special. So I found a recipe and bought a box of Zahidi dates. Oh yeah, there are many varieties of dates, this was just what I happened to find that day in the market. These were in the produce section, not dried. Whole dates, with the pits in them. I didn't want to use something that had been dried, with sugar added.

So the date nut bread turned out fantastic. Much like I remember as a kid (and yes, I still ate it with a layer of yummy cream cheese on it). My dad enjoyed it too. After that though, the dates sat in the fridge.

I've used them for a few things since, added to my homemade coconut almond milk for a touch of natural sweetness. I tried pureeing them and adding them to granola bars. That's it though.

So I was wondering about using it for more things and decided to read up. Wow! These fruits and pretty amazing! Here are some facts:

Iron: 100 grams contains about 11% of the daily recommended amount!

Fiber: We all know the benefits of fiber in our diets.

Potassium, calcium, manganese, and copper! All of which assist the body in a variety of necessary things like red blood cell production, bone growth, blood clotting, etc.

Good source of Vitamin B-6 and Vitamin K.

Contains B-carotene, lutein, zea-xanthin, otherwise knowns as antioxidants. The inclusion of antioxidants in your daily diet can offer protection from a wide variety of cancers! In this day and age, we need all the protection we can get.

If you're into the whole glycemic index of foods, they fall into the lower end of the glycemic index.

Once I realized this, I wanted to find a way to include it a little more often. Since I used them previously to sweeten my homemade milk, I realized this might be a great option to sweeten other things as well. I already use applesauce and banana. Why not dates?

So recently I decided to make date paste out of the remaining box of dates. I simply removed the pits and soaked the fruits in water for a few hours. I drained the water off (but reserved it in case I needed a little liquid to help with the blending). I blended them up with a bit of the water until I got the consistency of a peanut butter. Done. I have seen some recipes that also call for lemon juice and a pinch of salt. I suppose I may try this in the future. Another option I read about was adding nuts and cinnamon (um, YUM!).

Now, what can you use date paste for? Anything that you would use any other sweetener for. If you're replacing syrups or honey with date paste, you will want to thin it out some to get the same consistency. From there you can play with using it in recipes and other areas you would want. So far I've used it on toast, in yogurt, pancakes, and smoothies. It's a very sweet sort of paste that reminds me of caramel sort of.

One thing to remember: If you're watching calories, etc, dates are fairly high in calories. However, I'd still rather get my 'sweet' calories from something like this than from added refined sugars. Will this replace all my other sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, etc)? No, because in small amounts these all offer some health benefits. Plus, as with all sweeteners, we use them sparingly. However, I feel good about using dates just like I would bananas and any other fruit to sweeten items and I can't wait to bake with them! I'll continue to share recipes I try using dates in the future.

**Date paste, from what I've read, should be refrigerated and will last from 1-2 weeks. However, judging by how fast it's being used up in this house, I doubt it'll last you that long either.

Have you used dates? Do you like to eat them plain? Please share!

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