If you’ve ever tried making a healthy dessert or hunted through health stores for a sugar substitute, you’ve probably stumbled upon dates.
Full of fibre, potassium, magnesium and zinc, dates are a great option if you’re trying to cut down on refined sugar.
However, not all date varieties are made the same; most noticeably between the “baker’s sweetheart”, Medjool dates, and pitted Deglet Noor dates a.k.a “regular” dates.
Here we look at the differences between these two popular date varieties.
Texture and taste
Deglet Noor dates have a firm, fairly thick flesh, and have a colour which ranges from light red to amber. Their flavour is sweet and slightly pithy.
Medjool dates, by contrast, have a rich, chewy texture which many say has the sticky and intense viscosity of caramel. They are also much sweeter than regular pitted dates, due to their high fructose content, and are generally larger in size, too. This is why many consider Medjool dates to be the best type to eat straight from the packet (organic varieties usually taste the best when eaten this way).
Per 100 grams, Medjool and Deglet Noor dates come in at just under 300 calories each (Medjool have slightly fewer calories, with 277 kcal vs Deglet’s 282 kcal). The reason for their high calorie count is down to the natural sugars that make up around 89 per cent of the entire date.
The big difference between the two, however, comes down to the types of sugars in each variety. Deglet Noor dates contain fructose, glucose and sucrose in equal measures, while Medjool dates are dominated by just fructose and glucose. Sucrose is another name for regular ‘table sugar’, while ‘fructose’ is fruit sugars and ‘glucose’ is a simple sugar which the body needs, to some degree, for energy.
Both Medjool and Deglet Noor are similar in their nutritional composition, although Medjool dates have been ripened for longer so may have more natural sugars.
This being said, both are great sources of potassium, magnesium, zinc, phosphorous, calcium and vitamin B3. And when compared with refined sugars, they have a lower glycemic index overall (good for those with diabetes).
Most of all, they are known for their high concentration of fibre, making dates an essential after-dinner food if you suffer with IBS. With this in mind, organic Deglet Noor varieties are worth the extra money if you want good quality, pesticide-free treats.
If you don’t like dates, then a decent alternative might be figs, raisins, cherries, cranberries or dried apricots. They all share the same high fibre profile and the signature meaty ‘crunch’.
Use in cooking
Many healthy baking recipes and smoothies will ask for Medjool dates only (just look at Deliciously Ella). This is because Medjool dates’ sticky consistency makes them an awesome substitute for other sticky high-sugar alternatives, such as syrups, caramels and caramelised sugars. Wholefood Earth Medjool Dates are pretty fantastic for cooking syrups with.
On the other hand, regular pitted dates, with their thicker skin, are much better for toppings and adding texture to healthy bakes, such as fruit and nut bars. They are also often used for making fresh date sugar. Tree of Life Organic Dates are my absolute favourites for snacking on the go and baking into breakfast bars.
The process of growing and harvesting Medjool dates is much more labour-intensive than regular pitted dates (they’re picked when ripe vs others which are ripened post-picking). Arguably, this turns out a superior product which is richer and more luxurious tasting, but it has a shorter shelf-life. As a result, Medjool dates are a more expensive product than regular dates.
If you’re short on cash and need a quick healthy snack, I’d advise going straight for regular pitted dates. The health benefits are exactly the same, and you’ll save yourself a bundle. On the other hand, if you are desperate to make healthy energy balls, for instance, pitted dates simply won’t churn out the thick fudgy consistency that you need, meaning Medjools are a must in this instance.