Seasonal Ingredient of the Week: Dates

Probably the most popular ingredient in the health industry, dates are the key to almost all healthy sweet treats, raw cakes, snack bars and shakes filling the shelves and menus of healthy eateries. Packing a heap of sweetness whilst still ticking the natural box, they're also a great binder for bliss balls, cheesecake bases and flapjacks.

But how about their natural, undried form? Until recently, the only date we were aware of, was the dried variety filling our dry storage cupboards, but  dates actually go through 4 stages before reaching the brown, wrinkled appearance we know and love: kimri (green and unripe), khalal (ripe and crunchy - picture above), rutab (ripe and soft), and tamr (ripe and sun-dried). 

We can't lie, they're not as much of a treat at the khalal stage as the more popular tamr - sort of like a honey-sweet apple with a dry, chalky texture but still worth a try (even just out of curiosity). They're in season throughout August and September only, and we picked ours up in the local grocers, so keep your eyes peeled! 

RECIPE IDEAS: 

We're yet to experiment with khalal stage dates, but we have plenty of experience with the more popular dehydrated or tamr variety. 

- Bliss balls are the perfect healthy snack on the go, simply a mix of dates, nuts and your choice of dried fruit and superfoods. Our favourite flavour combination is maca + coconut, available to purchase London-wide. 

- They're also the key to a delicious raw cheesecake base. Simply blend dates with oats, nuts and seeds then press into a loose-bottom pan and place in the freezer to harden. Top with a creamy mix of cashews, coconut cream or tofu blended with your favourite flavours. 

- Date and banana porridge is also one of our long-standing favourites. Chop dates into small chunks then mix into your porridge mix along with partially mashed banana and let it cook. The dates will turn soft and gooey making the perfect winter warmer (despite it currently being mid-summer) 

- For a quick snack to kerb those sugar cravings, nothing beats a medjool date stuffed with crunchy almond butter. So simple - so, so good. 

- And let's not get started on date caramel. Simply soak dates in a little hot water then blend in a high speed blender. Add a splash of water and vanilla for a thick caramel, or add more water (or coconut milk depending on how indulgent you want it to be) for a runnier caramel. 

- They're also perfect for adding into cakes, bakes and muffins. And old classic is date and walnut cake, and one that's also really easy to make using clean ingredients.