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.
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.
Read more: What's Date Sugar, and How Do You Use It?
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