What is the origin of dibis?
Dibis or dibs in Arabic (دبس ) means molasses. Usually any syrup, especially fruit extract, has the prefix dibis in its name. Pomegranate syrup is known as dibis al ruman. Dates or grapes syrup is simply known as dibis in the Middle East as they are the original syrups available since ancient times.
Date palm fruit
Date tree is believed to have originated somewhere in the fertile crescent region in the Middle East around 4000 BCE. It is one of the staple ingredients throughout that region and more importantly the date fruit is culturally and religiously attached to the Muslim community.
It has been mentioned in the holy Quran several times. Muslims break their Ramadan fast every evening by having dates first at iftar. It is believed that dates are offered in heaven as a blessing and it is also considered as an antidote to poison and black magic. The Islamic folklore and stories behind dates are numerous.
What is date syrup (date honey or date molasses)?
Date syrup is also known as date honey or date molasses. It is simply an extract from the date fruit. People usually buy the syrup from commercial outlets rather than making it at home. They are one of the essentials in the Middle East, especially in Arabic kitchens.
There are several ways to prepare date syrup at home. Most of the recipe methods are similar: soak the date fruit, boil, extract and reduce. But the Iraqi method seems to be more straightforward. In this recipe, the dates are pitted, soaked in hot water, simmered for sometime and then the juice is extracted by crushing and sieving the pulp. The extra reduction of the syrup is not needed.
Also, the consistency of the syrup depends on how long you simmer it and the quantity of water added. For a thicker syrup, reduce the amount of water and increase the simmering time. The recipe featured here is slightly sticky and has a pouring consistency.
Other fruit extracts in the Middle East
Extracting from fruits has been very common in the Middle Eastern countries since the ancient times. Commonly used fruits are grapes, pomegranates and dates. While grape syrups are popular and known throughout the world, the Middle East enjoys a variety of naturally sweetened syrups made from different kinds of fruits. Sometimes, sugar beet, figs, mulberry and juniper figs are also used in making fruit extracts.
Turks make a similar extract from grapes known as pekmez. It is a molasses like syrup made from crushed fruit and which is boiled with coagulant agents like wood ashes or carob seeds. This syrup is drizzled over most of the breakfast items and especially on top of tahini. In Azerbaijan, pekmez is poured over yogurt and used as a refreshment drink.
Dibis is also known as rubb in Arabic and Arabs make dibis with fruits like pomegranates, grapes, carobs or dates.
Recipes with date syrup
Iraqis love dates and they are one of the world’s major producers of dates. They love their date syrup on top of everything. Iraqis and Iranians both love to drizzle the syrup over tahini and enjoy it for breakfast. This is called rashi wa dibis in Iraq. Halawat debis is a fudge type Iraqi snack made with the date syrup.
Dibis is also enjoyed as a spread over bread. Date syrup is also consumed with tea, on top of kaymak (cream) and almost with everything. While the Libyans love to have this with asida, the Syrians prepare a refreshing drink called jallab with dibis.
In recent times, date syrup like honey and other natural sweeteners have become a popular sugar alternative. The only thing to consider is that date syrup raises the glucose level in blood instantly and is recommended for hypoglycemic people. Dates are a nutritious rich fruit and date syrup is also densely packed with rich nutrients.
This recipe is validated by our expert in Iraqi cuisine Nawal Nasrallah. An award-winning researcher and food writer, Nawal is the author of the definitive cookbook on the Iraqi cuisine Delights from the Garden of Eden.
- Wash the dates. Place them in a large pot and pour boiling water over them.
- Stir well, cover and let stand for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
- Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let cool completely.
Working with about 2 cups (500 ml) of the date mix at a time, pour the cooked dates into a large sieve or a cheesecloth placed on a large salad bowl.
- Crush them delicately by pressing them against the mesh with a wooden spoon and/or the hands.
- Once most of the liquid has run out the syrup is ready.
- Pour into jars and store in the refrigerator or in a cool place.