One of the highlights of my recent trip to Iran was falling in love with date syrup – a dark, sticky, sauce made from cooked down dates. Sometimes labelled as date molasses, this incredibly versatile natural sweeter has a rich, treacly, flavour and is great if you want to reduce your refined sugar intake without compromising on flavour.
Iran is one of the largest date producers in the world and cultivates dozens of varieties of this energy-packed wonder fruit. Dates are used in abundance in sweet and savoury Iranian food, adding a wonderful caramel flavour and gentle sweetness to many dishes.
You can buy date syrup in any health food shop and many larger supermarkets also now stock it. Here are some of my favourite ways to use it.
1. Drizzle it on pancakes or French toast.
2. Add a spoon to smoothies for natural sweetness
3. Pour a few tablespoons over root vegetables such as butternut squash, sweet potatoes, carrots and parsnips along with some olive oil, fresh thyme and salt and pepper before whacking them in the oven and roasting them. The date syrup accentuates the natural sweetness of the vegetables perfectly.
4. Squeeze some over ice cream and, if you are feeling fancy, add a pinch of sea salt too for a delicious salted date sauce
5. Spread it onto toast with some tahini (this is how it is enjoyed in southern Iran and is simply one of my favourite food pairings – try it!)
6. Spoon some onto your morning porridge and top with chopped nuts
7. Use it as a marinade for chicken. You know that lovely, sticky, sweet glaze you can get on BBQ chicken? Try combining date syrup with some soya sauce, olive oil, crushed garlic, lemon juice and salt and pepper and marinading some chicken legs in that sauce for an hour. Then roast in the oven till the chicken juices run clear and the chicken skin is crispy.
8. If you make your own granola try using date syrup instead of sugar, honey or golden syrup to give the oats a caramel crunch and a treacly flavour.
9. Try some with yoghurt and fresh fruit to jazz up your breakfast
10. Spoon it into home-made hot chocolate. Frothy milk, good quality cacao, date syrup. This just works. Trust me.