Ingredient Intelligence

3 Ways to Use Dates as a Substitute for White Sugar

published Jun 13, 2017
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Dates are a powerhouse sweetener. Not only are they naturally high in sugar and fiber, but their sweetness also has distinct caramel-like flavor that just cannot be replicated. However, when it comes to replacing dates for white sugar in cooking and baking, a simple one-for-one swap isn’t always possible. But dates can be manipulated into a few baking-friendly forms and replace white sugar in everything from salad dressing to cookies. Here are the three best ways to replace white sugar with dates.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

1. Try date sugar.

Date sugar is made from dehydrated dates that are ground into a granulated, sugar-like consistency. Because whole, pitted dates are used to make the sugar, their fiber leaves a tiny grit to the sugar that won’t dissolve in hot liquids or baked goods. It has a sweet, butterscotch-like flavor that’s more nuanced than brown sugar, although it shares a similar appearance.

You can use date sugar as a one-to-one replacement for granulated or brown sugar in baking recipes, but with a higher price tag than plain sugar, you’ll find yourself saving it for special occasions.

Try date sugar in a rub for pork or chicken, where its caramel flavor can really shine with just a small amount; bake it in simple cookies, where you can really taste its nuances and take advantage of the additional fiber; or use date sugar as a topping for muffins or your morning oatmeal, or to add caramel coloring to the top of your favorite pie.

2. Use raw dates.

I asked Laura Wright, author of The First Mess, about her experience baking with dates: “I do work with dates often, but typically in raw-style desserts and snacks or treats,” she says.

Because dates are high in fiber and naturally sticky, they can be blended into a binder for cookies and bars, or turned into caramel. They work well as a sweetener for smoothies and salad dressings that will be blended as well.

Get the recipe: How To Make Date Caramels

3. Make a date syrup.

You can turn dates into syrup — real syrup that involves boiling the dates and reducing the liquid until it’s the consistency of honey. It’s a bit of work, but the raw stuff (made in a high-powdered blender with just water) won’t cut it for baking.

For baking, you need to use less date syrup when replacing granulated sugar — a ratio of 2/3 cup date syrup for every 1 cup of sugar — and less liquid in the recipe. Or simply replace honey, maple syrup, or molasses with date syrup in baking recipes for a more caramel-like flavor that only dates can impart.

Get the recipe: How To Make Date Syrup