Using Date Syrup as a Sugar Alternative in Baking

Date syrup can be used as an alternative to sugar in many ways such as baking, smoothies, dressings, on porridge or spread on bread.  It is an unrefined sugar that is made up of pure dates and water; because of this unrefined nature the syrup maintains the vitamin, mineral and fibre content of the dates.  This means that it is slowly absorbed and digested by the body therefore producing a gradual rise in blood sugar levels (low GI) and a steady release of energy.

You can easily make you own date syrup at home by combining equal quantities of pitted dates and water in a bowl; cover and leave in the fridge for 24 hours. The dates dissolve in the water to produce a gorgeous yet very healthy syrup you can use in many recipes.  If you want to speed up the process then put the water and dates in a blender.

I have tried 2 recipes using my homemade date syrup; the first a Ginger Coconut Loaf which already used date syrup and the second a traditional chocolate cake where I simply replaced the sugar with date syrup at the ratio of 3:2.

Ginger Coconut Loaf

  • 150g ground almonds
  • 1/2 teaspn baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspn grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspn ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger or 2 inch fresh ginger grated
  • 3 eggs
  • 70ml date syrup
  • 1/2 teaspn vanilla essence
  • 60ml melted coconut oil

Preheat oven to 180’C/ gas mark 4

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Pour into lined 2lb loaf tin and bake for 20 minutes until risen and a knife comes out clean when stuck in the middle of the cake.


Chocolate Cake

  • 4 oz butter/ margarine softened
  • 2.6 oz date syrup
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 oz self raising flour
  • 1 oz cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspn baking powder
  • milk or water to adjust consistency

Preheat oven to 180’C/ gas mark 4

Mix butter/ margarine and syrup together until blended then add all other ingredients and mix until well combined.  To test if the mixture is ready using a spoon pick up some of the mixture and then try to drop it back in the bowl. If it falls off the spoon easily in one lump then the mixture is ready; if too thick add some milk or water until you get the right consistency.

This quantity makes 12 cupcakes (16 minutes cooking time) or 2lb loaf tin  (25 minutes cooking time).



Both cakes worked really well and the flavour of the ginger coconut cake is delicious – be careful to use only the 60ml of melted coconut oil though as my first attempt came out quite oily tasting as I measured the solid oil!

The only difference I noticed with the chocolate cake was that it needed to be cooked for longer than normal so cupcakes needed 16 minutes as opposed to the normal 10-12 otherwise the cakes were very light and tasty.  

I have put some of both cakes in the freezer to see whether they freezer well and will keep you updated


Is it Realistic to Stop Eating Sugar?

If you’ve read the newspapers or listened to the news this year you’ll be aware that the health focus for the start of 2014 is sugar.

The change for life website ( states that the average adult consumes 700g of sugar per week but more worrying is the fact that it’s not just the obvious sweet things that we love that are full of sugar. Refined sugars are added to all of the convenience foods we use on a daily basis: bread, ready made meals and sauces and even the healthy sounding smoothies.

Sugar doesn’t just make us fat or rot our teeth; its a contributor to diabetes, zaps our energy levels and is also now thought to interfere with the way our body’s hormones and metabolism works. 

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It’s not just what kind of sugar you’re eating, it’s how you’re eating it which is important.

Lets use the example of an apple and a milk chocolate bar. The apple contains sugar (fructose) and it gives your body energy but because you’re eating something that’s natural and complete with its fibre the absorption of the sugar into your body is slowed down.  The chocolate bar however is full of refined sugars to stop the milk going rancid; all the fibre has been taken away and the sugar bleached so this goes straight into your body resulting in your blood sugar level rising rapidly.  This causes those energy peaks and troughs which make you feel high and then awful and unless this energy is burnt off immediately it will be stored in your body as fat.

So is it possible to give up sugar when it seems to be in everything we eat? It seems like an unrealistic task but the key is to start reducing the amount of sugar we consume by making some basic food swaps and maybe working on eliminating those foods that are your big downfall. 

Today it is recommended that we all eat food in as close to its natural form as possible and without any processing so plenty of fresh fruit, combined with nuts, fresh veg and good quality proteins.

The experts say that it takes anything from 21 days to 8 weeks to change a habit so over the next few weeks I plan to reduce the amount of sugar I consume in small stages and update you with how this goes and the key issues I find as well as hopefully the benefits I feel.

My plan is:

Week 1: No more Sugary Drinks.

This I believe is one of the most obvious ways to reduce sugar consumption. I don’t drink hot drinks so do have a lot of fruit juice, squash and fizzy drinks all of which contain high levels of sugar. Even sugar free fizzy drinks should be avoided as they contain sweeteners instead which are believed to be as bad or sometimes worse for you!

Week 2: No more Sugary Snacks or Breakfast Cereals.

Whilst this means cutting out the cake or biscuits I may eat at the moment it doesn’t mean starving yourself as I shall be looking at alternative snacks which I hope will be just as tasty and filling but not filled with sugar… and I don’t mean carrots and celery sticks!

Breakfast cereals are another source of sugar – I have been eating those ‘cereals for a healthy heart’ for years believing them to be good for me but have now read the packet and see that it’s 25% sugar.

Week 3: Reduce Sugar in your Baking.

I think many of us were horrified to realise that much of the convenience food we buy today is heavily laden with sugar – from bread to ready meals and sauces. Making your own means you know what goes into each meal and it needn’t be an expensive or time consuming process.

By the end of the 3 weeks I hope to have reduced my sugar intake and ideally eliminated some of my bad habits from my diet and so feel healthier without feeling deprived.

 I’ll let you know next week how the first phase goes and please try it yourself and feed back on how you coped.

What makes your perfect pancake?


Shrove Tuesday this year falls on 8 March 2011 – it’s the day before Lent starts and in the past was the time that rich foods such as eggs and fat were used up as these were forbidden foods during the 40 days of Lent. Nowadays Shrove Tuesday or pancake day is a tradition in itself!

I was never a big fan of pancakes as a child and to be honest still don’t see the big attraction however I’ve always enjoyed the fun of making and tossing them.

Basic Recipe:

  • 4oz Plain flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 200ml milk
  • 75ml cold water
  • 2 tbsp butter – melted


  • Sieve flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Add eggs and slowly whisk the mixture.
  • As the mixture starts to come together gradually add the water and milk and continue to whisk until the batter is smooth.
  • Leave the batter to rest for at least an hour, then when ready to start cooking add 2 tbsp melted butter to the batter and whisk to combine.
  • Coat the pan with fat – I tend to use olive oil but any fat will work and put over a high heat until the pan is very hot. Reduce the heat slightly and add about 1/2 ladleful of batter to the pan.
  • Immediately swirl the pan so the whole base of the pan is coated with batter and leave to cook for around 45 seconds – you will see the edges of the batter start to brown and the pancake will move as a whole in the pan when shaken. The pancake is now ready to toss!



Top Tips:

  • Don’t put too much mixture in the pan – 1/2 a ladleful is plenty and will give a nice thin pancake that is easy to toss.
  • Oil the pan between cooking each pancake if you want to toss each one without the assistance of a palette knife.

I don’t have a particular favourite filling for my pancakes – on Tuesday I will probably be having sugar and lemon or nutella and banana as I have a sweet tooth. I have friends however who will fill their pancakes with whatever it is they are giving up for Lent – as you can imagine this makes for some very interesting fillings!!

What is the Fish Fight Campaign?

I’m sure many of you, like me, have watched with interest and horror the experiences of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall this week in his series on Channel 4 Hugh’s Fish Fight.

He has produced a website to accompany this programme at where you can find out more about the issues raised and lend your support to the public campaign to stop discarding fish at sea as well as getting updates on the campaign and its continuing work over the coming months.

The Key to the Campaign

The EU estimates that in the North Sea fishermen discard 40% – 60% of their catch.  These fish could be:

  •  species that have fallen out of fashion such as flounder, dab, coley and pouting and so can not be sold on
  • popular fish such as prime cod, haddock, plaice that are “over-quota”.

The quota system is intended to protect fish stocks by setting limits on how many fish of a certain species should be caught, however fishing for one species often means catching another and if fishermen are not allowed to land them, the only option is to throw them overboard – sadly the vast majority of these  fish will die. The Common Fisheries Policy which is the political framework for the quota system, is currently being reformed for 2012.

The aim of the campaign is to stop the unnecessary discarding of perfectly good fish.

How Can We Help?

So, on an individual level what can we do to support this campaign:

  • you can sign up to the campaign at The aim was 250,000 signatures by summer 2011 and this has already been exceeded – today there are 427,324 signatures but the more signatures the bigger the voice.
  • be more adventurous with fish and try eating some of the lesser-known species of local fish currently being discarded – look out for tasty and nutritious recipes coming on this blog in the next few days.