Dates can be a tasty treat but not many people are in the habit of stocking them in their pantry.
Also, the single woody seed inside the date may not make it a convenient food to eat, especially when you need to process it in larger quantities.
This is where date substitutes come in!
What is the best substitute for dates? Dates can be substituted with several dried fruits. Dried raisins, dried apricots, figs, dried berries, and other similar foods can be used as a direct substitute for dates in many recipes!
Read below to learn more about the substitutes of dates, how they taste, how they differ, and how you can use them in baking and everyday recipes.
There are many varieties of dates. Some have a hard and dry exterior; others are tender and sweet. However, almost every type of date has a rich caramel-like flavor.
This makes them an important ingredient in many baking goods, sauces, and even jams.
But dates are not an ingredient that you would normally store in the pantry. They are usually bought for specific purposes and then used almost immediately.
This is why knowing its substitutes can help you out of a tight jam, especially when you don’t have dates at home!
Here are a few of their characteristics:
Dates are usually small and have a cylindrical shape. Some varieties can even be slim or slender. However, all of them have a woody seed in the middle. Dates are a common treat in Asia, especially in the Middle East.
They have been cultivated and consumed for generations and are known for their distinct color and shape. These fruits can also either have smooth skin or a rough and dry exterior, depending on the species and type.
The flavor of dates can be best described as being caramel-like. They are usually very sweet and can come close to tasting like toffees! However, they also have distinct chocolatey notes along with hints of butterscotch and cinnamon.
This makes them a highly attractive food for bakers and chefs. You can make several different types of sauces and jams with the pulp of dates and that too without adding a lot of sugar!
Dates are usually consumed on their own and are served with herbal tea.
They can also be combined with other ingredients to give them an even better overall flavor. For example, chocolate-dipped dates are a common delicacy in many countries.
You can also find dates filled with dried fruit like almonds. These dates are first deseeded and then reinserted with different dried fruits for a delicious treat.
In terms of culinary use, the deseeded pulp of dates can be used in savory dishes and is commonly combined in rice dishes too.
Also, because of their naturally sweet flavor and sticky texture, they are also extensively used in baking goods.
You can easily find date-infused cookies and even bars!
Why Substitute Dates?
As mentioned, there are several reasons for substituting dates. Perhaps the biggest reason for not using them is that they can be a bit inconvenient to eat.
Sure, popping a date directly into the mouth and eating around the seed while spitting out the pit is easier but when you have to use them in bulk, they can be quite a nightmare to deal with.
This is especially true for the tough-skinned variety.
Dates are harder to process by hand because you would have to carefully slice every date from the middle to extract the seed and then remove the flat stock from the top too.
This means that you will have to put in a lot of effort and work to get the pulp of dates. Even with the softer varieties, you will find them to be equally difficult to work with due to their stickiness.
For these reasons, merely cutting open the date will prove to be a time-consuming task because you would constantly have to clean the blade and keep the seed from ruining the shape of the fruit as you pull it out too.
Finally, perhaps the biggest reason why some might not want to use dates is that they can be very sweet—too sweet for some!
While their overall flavor is very pleasing, it can also prove to be a bit too much, especially for people who aren’t familiar with the fruit.
Don’t worry, we have the perfect substitutes for all your date-flavor needs.
The 13 Best Substitutes For Dates
Here are a few great substitutes:
Raisins offer more or less the same texture and can be used in the same way as dates.
The best thing about this substitute is that raisins have a milder sweet flavor compared to dates and although they can be texturally different, you can use dried raisins for the same distinct chew and texture found in dates.
Raisins can be used in baking goods and have several culinary uses too. You also get some flexibility when working with raisins.
For example, if you want the raisins to be soft and flavorful then you can hydrate them in water overnight for rounded and appropriately tender raisins.
2. Dried Apricot
Dried apricots are one of the best substitutes for dates for a variety of reasons. Firstly, these dried fruits have a fantastic flavor.
They are comparable to dates in terms of texture and can also be used in the same way as the palm fruit too!
Dried apricot can be diced or cut before it is added to food and once it is hydrated, it becomes adequately pliable, which means that you can also add them to biscuits, bars, cookies, and more.
3. Dried Berries
Looking for an equally nutritious and delicious substitute for dates? Then look no further than dried berries!
These fruits are an excellent snack and pack a lot of nutrition too. There are multiple types of dried berries that you can use; we recommend going with dried cranberries for the best experience.
They are not overly sweet and don’t require a lot of work to eat or process either. Just add a handful of berries to your favorite recipe and take your meal to the next level!
4. Dried Cherries
Dried cherries offer more or less the same nutrition and flavor value as dried berries.
The cherries can be used as a direct substitute for dates due to their simple and less sweet flavor. They are extremely easy to find and have an extended shelf life thanks to their low moisture content.
Don’t have dried cherries at home? Then you can easily make them using just a dehydrator! Alternatively, you can also choose to sun-dry the cherries for the same effect too.
5. Small Apricots
We love small apricots for two reasons: they have an extremely balanced sweet and fruity flavor, and they are tender and can be easier to work with than dates.
Small apricots are immature fruits that are plucked before they mature and become full-blown apricots.
Their small size gives them a unique and concentrated fruity flavor. You can even go for the tender and ripe versions of this fruit for more or less the same flavor and textural points as dates.
Not only are figs nutritionally dense, but they also make for excellent substitutes for dates!
This dried fruit is very easy to find and can be used without much processing either. Although they provide a different mouthfeel due to their small seeds, they offer a lot of similar flavor notes as to dates.
Figs are not overly sweet and provide a slightly caramel-like flavor that can be used to enhance the overall flavor profile of many types of baking goods and savory recipes too.
7. Raisin Paste
If you don’t want to use solid date pulp then we recommend that you go for the next best thing: raisin paste.
Dried raisin paste offers more flexibility than regular raisins because this form opens up a whole new range of uses for raisins!
Raisin paste provides most of the flavor notes found in dates and can be used in dressings, marinades, and general cooking too. Although they aren’t as sticky, they can also be used in baking goods as a flavor enhancer and binding agent too.
8. Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is an excellent alternative because it shares more or less the same flavor points as dates.
Although it is not nearly as nutritious and is often loaded with corn syrup, it is a tasty and familiar ingredient that you can use to mimic or substitute the flavors of dates in several dessert recipes.
If you want the most out of the flavor and texture of maple syrup then we recommend pairing it with dried raisins for a beautiful combination of flavor and texture.
9. Cane Sugar
Also called jaggery, cane sugar can be used as a substitute for dates in several recipes, including beverages! Cane sugar offers a lot of similar flavor notes and you can try different types of jaggery for the right flavor too.
Usually, jaggery will have a caramel-like flavor along with hints of molasses, maple, and more. Since it is less sweet than dates, you may use cane sugar not just for baking goods but in making herbal tea and other delicious recipes too.
Jujube is also called the Chinese date or red date. This date substitute is an excellent option because jujube hails from the same family as dates but is texturally different and has a slightly different flavor too.
The biggest difference between the two is the jujube tends to be a little less sweet. However, it provides a lot of the similar flavor points with a stronger focus on fruity undertones.
While they are similarly difficult to work with due to the seed in the middle, they are noticeably less sweet and sticky!
Cascara is the dried skin of the coffee cherry and is slowly gaining a lot of popularity around the world, especially in the USA.
It has been used by the likes of Starbucks and other artisanal coffeehouses to make several delicious beverages.
Historically, this fruit was once discarded as it was considered a waste product, even though the fruit had been consumed by indigenous people for centuries.
It was only fairly recently that we have woken up to the wonderful flavors of cascara—and the best part is that it offers some date-like flavor points too!
While it may not seem like a close substitute, it can easily be used in several different types of recipes and beverages, just like dates.
12. Dried Peaches
Dried peaches not only offer a great flavor but are highly nutritious and can be used in several ways too. When comparing them to dates, dried peaches will provide a similarly sweet, albeit less, rounded flavor.
It is an excellent substitute for dates because it provides a less intense overall flavor and the skin of the fruit can also be very easy to work with.
If you do prefer a bit of moisture in the fruit then you can soak them in water overnight to make them plum and superbly tasty!
13. Date Syrup
In essence, date syrup is just liquified dates. One of the reasons why you would want to use date syrup instead is that it provides the same date flavor in recipes without adding any pulp.
This means that you can add syrup over salads and can even use it in marinades to balance spicy ingredients.
Date syrup is usually made from Medjool dates that are significantly softer but are equally stickier and sweeter. These dates are known to taste like toffee and are a delicacy in many regions around the world.
Needless to say, if you are looking for an exact substitute for dates that has all of its flavors then you have to go with date syrup!
Dates are versatile and sweet fruits that can be used to elevate the flavor of baking goods, savory food, and more.
But in some cases, their intense flavor may not be suitable – luckily, dates share some common characteristics with other substitute-worthy fruits too!
Here are some related questions on dates and its many substitutes!
Can prunes substitute dates?
Yes. Prunes are easy to find and pack a lot of similar flavors as dates.
They are one of the closest substitutes for them and can be used in a variety of similar ways too. The dried variety has a particularly sweeter flavor but in terms of dates, prunes have a very well-rounded sweet flavor too.
How do you store dates and its substitutes?
Dates are fairly easy to store. They can last up to 3-6 months in the refrigerator but may also start to lose moisture after a few weeks.
Similarly, dates can also be frozen for up to a year or more depending on the type of date and storage conditions.
The dried substitutes of dates can last a similar amount of time.
However, for the best flavor, you should try to consume all dried fruits within a few weeks of purchasing them.
Can you use chocolate syrup as a substitute for dates?
No, chocolate syrup is texturally different and provides a different flavor too.
Although dates have a hint of chocolate and caramel in them, the intensely concentrated chocolate syrup will not provide any culinary value when you are trying to replicate the flavor of dates.
A better alternative would be to use date syrup in your recipes or if you really want to use chocolate then we recommend mixing the two in small proportions until you get the right flavor from the syrup.
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