In its purest form, date syrup is just liquefied dates, while date sugar is that same sticky substance that’s been dried and finely ground for easier use in recipes. You can satisfy your sweet tooth in a more wholesome way with date-based sweeteners on your side. This guide to date sugar and date syrup (also known as silan) will show you how.
Humans have an innate taste for sweetness from the day we’re born. This preference has served us through evolution because sugars are a primary source of energy.
Now that nutritionally void candy, desserts, and drinks are as common as drinking water, the drive for sweetness can be at odds with our survival. The solution may have been in the produce section all along. Unlike most other sugars that are refined or heavily processed, dates are 100% whole fruit.
See lots more about this amazing fruit in this site’s Guide to Dried Dates.
What Are Date Sweeteners and Where Did They Come From?
It may seem like a new superfood craze today, but date syrup is one of the oldest sweeteners known to humankind. Ancient cuneiform tablets and stone inscriptions from Mesopotamia mention it as the primary sweetener of that time.
Many Jewish scholars agree that in the Bible, the word “honey” can be translated from the Hebrew to describe a date syrup, also known as date honey or date nectar, rather than the honey from a bee.
Date syrup, sometimes referred to as “silan” in Hebrew, is a liquid sweetener that can be used as a one-for-one substitute for brown rice syrup, agave syrup, or maple syrup. It has a rich, caramel-like sweetness that can sometimes be compared to molasses, too.
The dark, sticky liquid is made from only pureed fruit and water, which is then cooked until slightly reduced and strained to be completely smooth. The process is so simple that you can easily make your own date syrup at home. You’ll find a link to a recipe further down this post.
Date sugar is made from dehydrated dates that are ground to the consistency of granulated sugar, although the darker color and stronger flavor make it a better substitute for brown sugar. Liquid sweeteners aren’t as viable in baked goods like cookies, which is where date sugar comes in handy.
Date syrup is good simply spread on toast
How to Buy and Store Date Sweeteners
Once relegated to specialty ethnic stores and health food markets, both date syrup and sugar have become increasingly common in mainstream supermarkets and natural foods stores. You might find them in the baking aisle alongside other liquid and dry sweeteners, respectively. For the widest selection of options, you might have better luck shopping online.
Stored in an airtight container, date syrup can be kept at room temperature almost indefinitely. The high concentration of natural sugars makes it impervious to spoilage, although it can begin to crystalize over time. Still, it’s always safest to refrigerate once opened, especially in the warmer months.
Much like brown sugar, date sugar can become hard when exposed to air, or clump when excess moisture is introduced. It keeps best in a cool, dry, humidity-controlled environment, for up to five years.
Note that date sugar is different from date palm sugar, which comes from the dehydrated sap of sugar palm trees rather than whole dates. Other than reading the label carefully, the only sure way to tell the two apart is that date sugar will not dissolve completely in water, whereas date palm sugar will.
Since date sugar is made from whole granulated dates, a small amount of sediment will remain, which comes from the fiber present in the whole fruit.
It’s fairly easy to make your own date syrup — try this recipe
How to Cook and Bake with Date Sweeteners
Date sugar has the same sweetening properties as white sugar, brown sugar, and coconut sugar, which means it can be used interchangeably. It will create dark baked goods with a subtle caramel flavor. Unlike white sugar, date sugar does not dissolve in water. For sweetening cold drinks, it’s best to use date syrup instead.
Date syrup is a viable substitute for any other liquid sweetener, making it ideal for candy-making and sweetening sauces, puddings, oatmeal, and more. It creates a denser crumb when baking cakes because it’s very hygroscopic, which means it has and holds on to more moisture.
Date Syrup and Date Sugar Nutrition Notes
Date syrup and date sugar have a lower glycemic index than granulated sweeteners refined from sugar cane or sugar beets. That means it digests more slowly, providing sustained energy without drastically spiking blood sugar.
Moreover, they’re packed with nutrients like magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc, just like you would expect to find in whole dates. Date syrup has up to ten times the antioxidant power of honey, making it one of the most nutritious sweeteners you could choose.
Though fat-free and sodium-free, date syrup and sugar are dense sources of carbohydrates, making them high in calories. One tablespoon of either range from 45 to 60 calories, which is comparable to other sugars and syrups.
Hannah Kaminsky’s Gingerbread Date-Nut Scones
How to Use Date Syrup and Date Sugar
Gingerbread cookies and cake: Date syrup tastes a lot like dark, rich molasses, so it can be used the same way in your favorite gingerbread cookie or cake recipes. Likewise, the brown sugar can be swapped out for date sugar, too. Try this Gluten-Free Gingerbread Cookie recipe for an easy starting point.
Baklava: This Vegan Date Baklava makes good use of date syrup. It’s a bit involved, but a great project for bakers!
Pancake and waffle topping: Maple syrup is great, but date syrup can be just as tasty, and more affordable. Drizzle it straight out of the bottle or add a more flavorful twist with a touch of cinnamon, ginger, or stew it with fresh berries. Blueberry Date Syrup is a great example.
Hot Cocoa: Warm up with a mug of Date Hot Cocoa when the weather outside is frightful. It has a much greater depth of flavor than anything you’d find in a powdery mix.
Barbecue sauce: Slather Date-Sweetened BBQ Sauce over your favorite meatless protein at the next backyard cookout and everyone will think you’re a gourmet chef. Bold spices pair beautifully with the dark, molasses-like sweetness, contrasting in perfect balance with your salty, savory entrée.
Candied nuts: Coat lightly toasted nuts in a bubbling syrup infused with spices, bolstered by the sweetness of date syrup and date sugar. Candied Cinnamon Pecans are made with only four ingredients and are a great gift — if you can stop yourself from snacking on them right away.
Contributed by Hannah Kaminsky: Hannah has developed an international following for her delicious recipes and mouthwatering food photography at the award-winning blog BitterSweet. Passionate about big flavors and simple techniques, she’s the author of Vegan Desserts, Vegan à la Mode, Easy as Vegan Pie, Real Food, Really Fast, Sweet Vegan Treats, The Student Vegan Cookbook, Super Vegan Scoops, and The Everyday Vegan Cheat Sheet Pan. Visit Hannah at BittersweetBlog.com.
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