The newest alternative sweetener may actually be the most ancient of them all. Date syrup has long been appreciated in the Middle East where it is known as silan or rub; in fact, some sources say that this is the “honey” cited in the Biblical reference of “a land flowing with milk and honey.” In the Middle East, date syrup (also known as date nectar or date molasses) is used as everything from a dip for bread to a marinade for meat to a breakfast sweetener, and now organic date syrup is available in America.
D’Vash Organics co-founders Brian Finkel and David Czinn first met on a gap year in Israel. While Czinn went on to work in the food industry as the founder of Fruigees, an organic fruit squeeze pouch company, Finkel moved back to Israel, where he noticed he was eating more and more date nectar.
“I was putting it in my coffee and tea in the morning, I was drizzling it into my yogurt, I was baking it into desserts, I was using it as a marinade, I was putting it on pancakes, waffles, using it as a base for salad dressing, you name it,” he says. “I called David, and I said, ‘Hey, you're in the food industry in the U.S., do you know about this stuff?”
Soon after, the friends decided that it could be a big hit Stateside, and they launched their organic date syrup company.
Making an Israeli Staple a Local Endeavor
Of course, it took more than importing one of the dozens of Israeli brands of date syrup into the United States to set about making date syrup an American staple. D’Vash decided to work with suppliers in Southern California, which Finkel calls “the date capital of North America,” to create a product that would suit the American desire for transparency and local production.
The syrup itself is a byproduct of Medjool date production: dates that cannot be sold whole due to skin breakage or color discoloration are collected and concentrated, first cooked for 36 hours in 190 degree water before being filtered of all solid matter and dehydrated down to a syrup.
“It's a very simple process in the scheme of things,” notes the farmer who produces the syrup for D'Vash. “There's nothing added to it – it's just basically the dates and water.”
Because the process is relatively simple, the natural health benefits of dates, which are rich in minerals such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium, are not lost. Date syrup also retains dates' natural richness in polyphenols and antioxidants: about 5900 moles per 100 grams, as compared to 4900 in blueberries.
Date syrup is also lower in fructose than once-super sweetener agave syrup and also has a lower glycemic index than both maple syrup and honey. One study in the Nutrition Journal showed that the consumption of dates by healthy or diabetic individuals does not result in blood sugar spikes, something that Finkel also says he can attest to based on anecdotal evidence.
But date syrup isn't just less bad for you than other sweeteners: a 2015 study in Society for General Microbiology showed that date syrup could actually be beneficial, thanks to antibacterial activity against a number of bacteria including Staph and E. coli. According to Science Alert, this antibacterial activity occurs at an even faster rate than Manuka honey.
“It really kind of ticks all the boxes for what what healthy and trendy consumers today are looking for,” explains Finkel. “It's locally grown and sourced, it's non-GMO, it's organic, it's vegan, it's made from one ingredient, plant-based, paleo, and the list goes on and on.”
Date Syrup: A New Staple Sweetener
D’Vash first launched in the U.S. in February, and within a month, the company’s products had been picked up by two major distributors.
“We’re about to launch with Thrive Market this month, and Whole Foods is about to place a big order, which is exciting as well,” he says. “We’re also in talks with Costco – it kind of runs the gamut from organic high end places to really anywhere.”
This, Finkel says, is part of the business’ goals.
“We don't see this as something that's going to be on the bottom shelf of an ethnic aisle somewhere in the back,” he says. “We see this as a staple, something that every American household will have in their cupboard.”
The uses of date syrup are myriad: it makes a great sugar substitute, but its subtle rich flavor also makes it a great ingredient for marinades and barbecue sauces. If you're starved for ideas, D'Vash has one suggestion right on the bottle: the D’Vash Date Shake, featuring bananas, date syrup, and your choice of dairy or plant-based milk.
D’Vash is also working on expanding its product range to include not only other date-derived products such as date sugar and flavored date syrups, but also syrups made from other dried fruits, such as figs.
“There's been a trend in the last five or ten years where you have a product that's really popular in a given region in the world but unheard of in the U.S. or in the West,” says Finkel, citing goji berries and açai as two recent additions to this list.
"We kind of feel like we've hit on the Middle Eastern superfood."