When I was younger, I thought dates were wrinkly and strange. I'd never been a huge fan of dates, but that all changed this summer when I tried date bread while abroad in China. Come to find out, dates are also chock full of nutrients

Everyone knows and loves banana bread. It is delicious, but date bread can be just as good–or better.

Beijing's Zaogao Cafe

Srishti Lulla

This past summer, I was lucky enough to go to Beijing, and there, I discovered my favorite bakery, called 糟糕 (zaogao). Its name loosely translates to "Oh no!" 

Zaogao only sells one baked good: date bread. Okay, they sell other snacks, but everyone comes for the piping hot, delectably sweet bread. No matter what time of day it is, lines are always snaking around this outdoor stall. The smell pervades the line, tantalizing you as you wait.

At first, I was skeptical. There was no way date bread could be as good as banana bread.

I was soon disproven. The bread was pillowy, a soft texture peppered with small date pieces. The smell was light and sweet. Not only was it delicious, but the bread was very cheap, bought by bag. For just over three dollars, I had about four loaves. I thought they would last me a while, but alas, I had already eaten half of them on the way back to my dorm. 

What's the Deal With Dates?

date, jujube, nut, sweet, raisin
Kristine Mahan

What are dates? Dates are the fruit of the date palm tree, native to the Middle East. They are often used to sweeten foods, and they comprise many desserts–often as the star of the dish. Dates are also filled with fiber and calcium and have countless health benefits, like aiding with indigestion and strengthening your bones. 

Dates are one of the best functional foods, which are foods "that provide health benefits beyond the provision of essential nutrients". Most functional foods have nutrients added to them, but the benefits of dates occur naturally. If you have low blood sugar, dates are one of the best alternatives, as they have a low glycemic index but high in fiber. 

Dates are delicious on their own, but also feature in other desserts. They're sweet, but don't increase your blood sugar, making them a healthy alternative.

Date Bread Everywhere

I was lucky enough to go to Beijing and eat date bread there, but it's not just available in China. In fact, date bread is an old-fashioned recipe that many Americans continue to make. It's originally a traditional cake from Scotland. There's even a national date bread day: December 22nd.   

Want to make it yourself? Great recipes are easy to find, like these from King Arthur Flour and Food Network

Other Date Recipes

Bread isn't the only delicious thing you can make with dates.  Sweet, savory, and more–dates are versatile in all types of dishes. From fancier plates to simple 5-minute dishes, dates can be used in many cuisines successfully. Here are some great recipes featuring these sweet fruits:

- Stuffed Date Cookies

- Date Caramel Truffles

- Tamarind Date Chutney

Whether you're lining up at the bakery or getting to work in your own kitchen, try substituting dates for your normal banana bread next time–you'll be glad you did. 

Ready to get cooking with dates? Check out some other simple and fantastic recipes here:

Sauteed Dates on Greek Yogurt

Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Goat Cheese and Rosemary

- Heavenly 3-Ingredient Date Balls