11 of the Best Substitutes for Dates

Although dates are not the most well-known fruit in the western world, they have long been one of the most popular fruits in the middle east. With their sweet almost caramel-like flavor and texture, it’s no wonder that dates have been a favorite for thousands of years. In the Muslim religion, they are even considered a crucial part of one of their most significant religious events, Ramadan.

If you live in a colder area or an area that does not receive shipments of many exotic fruits it may be difficult to find dates. You may be able to find some dried dates, but these won’t have near the amount of flavor that fresh dates promise.

The best substitutes for dates are:

  1. Prunes
  2. Date Syrup
  3. Jujube
  4. Maple Syrup
  5. Raisins
  6. Raisin Paste
  7. Dried Apricots
  8. Dried Cherries
  9. Sultanas
  10. Black Sapotes
  11. Figs

Dates Overview

Dates are a popular fruit that is native to the Middle East and is a crucial part of many of the traditional recipes there. This is especially true of their traditional desserts where dates are used as the primary sweetener. You can find dates used as a sweetener in everything from cakes to tea.

One of the reasons that they are so popular is that compared to other fresh fruits, dates are relatively dry. This can help to keep them fresh in a hot climate where refrigeration is extremely limited. They are also high in calories and sugar, making them a great source of nutrition if you cannot carry a lot of food with you.

Dates grow on a specific type of palm tree called the date palm. They grow in large bunches at the top of the tree, and can often grow to more than fifty feet tall. They are difficult to harvest because of this, but that hasn’t stopped them from being one of the most popular fruits in the Middle East.

Appearance-wise, dates have a somewhat wrinkled appearance that is relatively similar in color to a raisin. They have a large seed on the inside of the fruit that needs to be removed before the fruit can be eaten. 

For someone that has not tried them before, the flavor of dates can be described as similar to raisins with a hint of caramel. They have a more jam-like consistency and are intensely sweet compared to other dried fruits like raisins and prunes. Their sugar content is extremely high and the more moisture you remove, the sweeter the fruit will be.

What Can I Use as a Substitute for Dates?

With all the delicious recipes that call for dates, it can be pretty frustrating when they are difficult to find. Fortunately, several different fruits can be used as date substitutes. Each has its advantages and disadvantages so pay close attention to what they are before making your date replacement selection.

The best substitutes that you can find for dates include:

  • Prunes
  • Date Syrup
  • Jujube
  • Maple Syrup
  • Raisins
  • Raisin Paste
  • Dried Apricots
  • Dried Cherries
  • Sultanas
  • Black Sapotes
  • Figs

1. Prunes

One of the most popular replacements for dates is prunes. If you’re not too familiar with dates, you might even have a hard time telling these two apart due to their similar appearance. 

If you don’t already know prunes are made from dried plums and have a sweet and tangy flavor with a sticky texture. They are slightly squishier and stickier than dates but overall have a very similar texture. The flavor is also different with plums being more tangy than sweet, however, this should be difficult to detect in recipes.

A lot of people eat prunes as a simple snack to satisfy their sweet cravings and give them an extra boost of fiber. However, prunes can also be used in recipes as a substitute for other dried fruits. You can use prunes in lots of recipes where you would normally use dates like date pudding and date-flavored oatmeal. 

One of the main benefits of using prunes as a substitute for dates is that they are extremely accessible. You can find large containers of them in virtually every grocery store at a very low price.

2. Date Syrup

If you’re looking to get the date flavor but you’re not too concerned about the texture or don’t want an actual fruit, try date syrup. Date syrup is simply a liquid that is made from dates that have been thoroughly blended and strained to remove any pulp.

Date syrup makes a great date replacement if you are simply looking for the date flavor without any of the pulp. It can be a great sweetener alternative for different baked goods and you can even add it to your daily smoothie for a bit of extra sweetness. If you prefer a smooth date pudding, date syrup can also be a very useful ingredient for that.

You may not be able to find date syrup in every local grocery store. However, since it comes in a container and lasts for a long time you should be able to order it online. If you have a middle eastern store nearby you may also be able to find it there.

3. Jujube

Chances are even if you’re a big fan of dates, you’ve never heard of jujube. This is because it is local to China and is rarely used outside of Chinese cuisine. However, in recent years this fruit has been gaining popularity allowing more and more people to enjoy its flavors.

The jujube is a type of date meaning that you’ll overall get a very similar flavor and functionality that you’ll get with a regular date. However, despite their similarities and coming from the same family, there are some differences that you’ll want to consider.

The first difference is that jujube dates are typically less sweet and less sticky than regular dates. This means that you may need to add extra sugar and liquid to compensate for this in your recipe. However, if you’re not as much of a sweet person, chances are you’ll prefer this type of date.

The best place to find these dates is going to be in your local Asian market. They will sell them fresh and you can typically find them in bulk to save money.

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4. Maple Syrup

Another substitute that is in the same realm as date syrup is maple syrup. Maple syrup is made by taking the sap from a maple tree and boiling it down until it is a thick and sugary syrup. If you were planning on using date syrup anyway or just using dates as a sweetener, maple syrup could be a great alternative.

There are some flavor differences that you’ll want to keep in mind if you decide to use maple syrup. In contrast to dates, maple syrup has a slightly less sweet flavor and is also slightly runnier. It has a lighter flavor overall and many people describe it as having hints of vanilla, this is in contrast to the flavor of dates which is described as more caramel-like.

One of the best things about maple syrup is that pretty much wherever you are, you’ll be able to find it. You can also purchase super high-quality maple syrup that will have virtually no preservatives in it which makes it a much healthier option than other sweeteners. 

5. Raisins

If you’re having a hard time finding some of the other options on this list and you want something readily available and affordable, try raisins. Raisins are a popular dried fruit that is made from dehydrated grapes. It is most commonly eaten as a snack but can also be used in recipes as a substitute for dates.

Raisins have a chewy texture that is very similar to that of dates, especially dried dates. They also have a pretty similar flavor, the main difference that you’ll notice is that raisins are quite a bit less sweet than dates. 

One of the easiest ways to use raisins as a substitute for grapes is in baked goods and things like date pudding. If you are going to use raisins in a more fresh dish, like date pudding, you’ll want to soak them in water for at least an hour beforehand. This will allow the dates to rehydrate, making them juicier and more similar in texture to fresh dates.

6. Raisin Paste

If you like raisins but are just looking for a flavoring alternative, try raisin paste. This is also made from dried grapes but instead of staying in their whole form, they are ground into a paste. Raisin paste is very useful in desserts where you want all of the flavors of dates without having to deseed and grind up the dates individually.

Raisin paste can also be used to make a super simple alternative to date syrup. Just take your raisin paste and add a small amount of water to the paste until it reaches your desired texture. 

If you can’t find raisin paste in your local grocery store, it is also super easy to make at home. Just take raisins, add a small amount of water, then blend them together using a food processor until it has a smooth consistency.

Raisin paste will have an almost identical texture to date paste, just with a slightly less sweet flavor. This makes it a great option for people who are looking to decrease the amount of sugar in their foods while keeping their favorite flavors.

7. Dried Apricots

Another common dried fruit that makes a great date replacement is dried apricots. Dried apricots are just what they sound like, pitted apricots that have been dried. This allows them to last much longer than fresh apricots and also intensifies the sweet flavor that people love. 

Overall, fresh apricots have a flavor that is very similar to that of peaches. They are sweet with just enough sourness to keep them balanced and fresh. This sweetness is only intensified when they are dried, making for a delicious snack that is sure to satisfy your sweet tooth. They are also full of vitamins and fiber, making them a healthy option as well.

You can use dried apricots in all the same ways that you use dates. The only catch is that if you are going to use them in place of fresh dates, you’ll want to rehydrate them slightly before using them. 

The easiest way to do this is by soaking them in water for about an hour before using them. The apricots will absorb the water and become plump and juicy making them a perfect date substitute.

Apricots are also super easy to find in stores, making them a great option if you’re in an area that doesn’t stock more “exotic” fruits.

8. Dried Cherries

An easy substitute that few people consider is using dried cherries in place of dates. Dried cherries are available all throughout the United States and are super popular for their tart flavor. A lot of people use them to top salads and in cereal to help balance out the sweetness of the other ingredients.

If you use dried cherries, you’re going to experience more flavor and texture differences than you would with other options on this list. They are quite a bit less sweet than dates and are also less chewy and sticky. This means that they won’t work for certain recipes, like dates-based granola, where it relies on the date’s stickiness.

However, you can easily use dried cherries as a substitute for baked goods. You may just want to soak them for a short time beforehand to increase the moisture level and make them juicier.

Dried cherries are full of vitamins and antioxidants while being relatively low in sugar. This makes them one of the healthier options on this list.

9. Sultanas 

If you are a fan of raisins but feel like their flavor isn’t quite similar enough to be used as a date substitute, try sultanas. Technically, sultanas are also a type of grape but their flavor is different enough that most people don’t put them in the same category.

Sultanas are made from dried white grapes that are grown without seeds. Compared to regular raisins, they have a much sweeter flavor and are not quite as dried out as raisins. This makes them have a more juicy and sticky texture that is reminiscent of dates. They are also light yellow in color instead of a deep purple.

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Sultanas are mainly consumed and produced in the Middle East where they are often baked into bread and used in other traditional dishes much like dates. Their flavor is often described as sugary and caramel-like, similar to the way that dates are often described. 

You can either eat sultanas as a simple snack or you can include them in recipes like dates. Their caramel-like flavor and juicy texture are sure to satisfy your craving for dates.

10. Black Sapotes

If you’re looking for a fruit to eat on its own that has a similar flavor to dates, try the black sapote. Sapote fruits come in many different varieties and are native to countries in Central America. They are a tropical fruit and have a large pit and thick skin somewhat similar to mangos and avocados.

If you’ve ever had a sapote before, chances are you’ve had a white sapote as they’re more readily available. However, these have a lighter flavor and will not be as similar to dates. Black sapotes have a custard-like texture when ripe which some people describe as being somewhat similar to papaya.

Flavor-wise, this tropical fruit is not similar to papaya. Instead, it is often described as having a rich, caramel-like flavor which is similar to the way most people describe the flavor of dates. 

Keep in mind that this fruit will not have a similar texture to dates. They are much juicier than dates however, a lot of people like them that way as a more fresh alternative to the typical chewy date. 

If you decide to give black sapotes a chance the best place to find them is in your local farmers’ market. This is where you’ll be able to find the most ripe black sapotes that are of the highest quality.

11. Figs

The last substitute that you can use for dates is the fig. Figs are similar to dates in that even when they are freshly harvested, they’re not considered a juicy fruit. They will always appear slightly shriveled and will have a more chewy texture as opposed to the juicy texture of fruits like peaches and pineapples.

Figs are harvested from a tree but unlike dates, they do not have a central pit. This can make them easier to process in high quantities since you won’t have to individually remove the seed from each fruit. 

Instead, they have many tiny seeds dispersed throughout the fruit. This can make the overall texture of the fruit more grainy which some people don’t like but others find delicious. You can use figs as an ingredient in recipes or as a standalone snack. If you live in a temperate climate, you can plant your own fig tree to have figs all year long.

How to Choose the Best Substitute for Dates?

To choose the best substitute for dates you will want to carefully consider how you are using the dates. Depending on how you are using them, your need will vary. In some recipes, the texture is the most important aspect of the substitute whereas in others the flavor is more important.

If you are using dates as an easy, sweet snack then you could use something like black sapotes or figs. Both of these are delicious on their own and have a relatively similar flavor profile to dates. They have caramel-like flavors and have great textures that aren’t too dry.

If you’re wanting a substitute for dried dates that can be used in a baked recipe, you may want to try something like raisins or jujube. Both of these have a very similar texture to dried dates and can easily be used as a substitute for dates in many recipes.

Finally, if you’re just looking for some date flavor you are best off using something like date syrup or raisin paste. These will give you all of the flavors of dates while keeping chunky pulp out of your recipe. These are great for things like date pudding where you want a super smooth texture with lots of date flavor.

Final Thoughts

The next time you are interested in preparing a Middle Eastern recipe, chances are you’re going to need to find some dates. These fruits are native to the Middle East and their high sugar content has made them an extremely popular ingredient in a lot of different recipes. They are also a crucial part of Ramadan, a religious celebration in the Middle East. 

The texture of dates is jam-like and sticky without being too wet. Dates are intensely sweet with a high sugar content that only increases with ripeness and as they are dried out. They have a large pit in the middle of them that usually need to be removed by hand before the fruit can be eaten. This pit can make it difficult to prepare a lot of dates since it is a labor-intensive process.

If you are looking for a substitute for dates you will want to consider the most important aspect of dates in your recipe. If you are making a pudding, chances are the flavor is the most important so you can use something like date syrup.

If you are just eating them as a snack, you will want a good balance between flavor and texture. Some of the substitutes that fit this category the best are the black sapote, dried apricots, prunes, and jujube which is actually a variety of dates native to China.

No matter which substitutes you choose it won’t be exactly the same, but hopefully you’ll be able to find one that is close enough in flavor to satisfy all of your cravings.