I’ve been using dates as a sweetener ever since I had that delicious raw apple pie at our CSA potluck. They’ve totally transformed the way I bake. I almost always use some amount of dates to substitute for sweeteners in recipes that call for sugar now, and dates enabled me to create a completely sugar-free browned butter banana bread!
When I first started, I just used “regular” dates. I don’t know what kind they are…just that they’re not Medjool. I’d heard that Medjool dates were, like, THE dates to get, but they were so much more expensive.
These were $4-something for 10 oz., while the Medjools were $7 for 8 oz.! I couldn’t justify that much of a difference (especially to my husband, who is already pretty much freaking out about how much I’m spending on milk and eggs these days.)You have to pick and choose where your money goes, you know? And dates are pretty low on that list, so regular dates it was.
But THEN I was at Trader Joe’s one day, and I saw these.
And then I saw that the price was $4.50 for 16 whole ounces!! They’re actually cheaper than the “regular” kind from the grocery store, and there’s more of them! So I snatched them up, of course. I had no idea why they were supposed to be so much better than other kinds of dates, just that I’d heard that they were, so I was eager to give them a try.
They really are different! The first thing I immediately noticed is that the Medjools are WAAAYYY softer than the other kind. The others were always pretty hard, which is why I had to soak them for so long to soften them up. These are really soft – almost creamy in texture. And the flavor! They’re described as being “caramelly” in flavor with a hint of honey. They’re also somewhat sweeter than the others. I was never crazy about eating those other dates by themselves, but when I’m cutting into these I can’t resist nibbling on them. Really good. And eating one of these guys does a great job at neutralizing any munchies I have for sweets!
Medjool dates are fairly high in natural fruit sugars, but are also a good source of the essential minerals copper, potassium, magnesium, and manganese. This is why they’re a better choice for a sweetener, because there’s a lot of good nutrition there too! They have a lot of fiber, as well, and are digested slower than typical sugars, making them easier on your blood sugar.
The one thing about these compared to the others I used to get is that they don’t come pitted – at least not the ones at Trader Joe’s. (And, at that price, that’s the only place I’m getting them!) Pitting them yourself isn’t a big deal though.
Just get a paring knife and make a slit down the middle. They’re so soft that this will be really easy.
Then pull out the seed. It’s tucked inside the large inner cavity and is loose – it comes right out.
Collect them all in a bowl or something as you go. You’ll still want to soak these if you’re going to puree them for a recipe, but it won’t take long at all. Probably 10 minutes, if that.
The seeds are funny. They look like little bugs. They remind me of the Cicada shells I used to see when I lived in Arkansas. Super creepy when you think of it that way.
But, hey, don’t let a creepy-looking seed stop you! It’s just a SEED after all. Not, like, some mutant bug that’s going to kill you in your sleep or anything. Right? (Please…tell me I’m right.)
So, these are now my dates of choice. If you have a Trader Joe’s near you, this is a great source! I’m steadily getting a whole list of “good quality ingredients that are stupidly cheaper at Trader Joe’s than anywhere else.” I think they’re starting to recognize me there.
If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you, and the only Medjool dates you can find are ridiculously expensive, then just get the regular ones. These aren’t essential or anything. They’re absolutely better, but not enough better to justify a huge expense when other things are more important money-wise. But if you can find them at an affordable price, they’re definitely better and definitely worth it!