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Baked beans sweetened with dates are a no-added-sugar dream come true

A news release I recently received, announcing a new line of canned baked beans made with no added sugar, instantly sparked my interest. I reliably keep a can of baked beans in my cupboard to pull out as a convenient side dish or vegetarian main, but I generally find them overly sweet, so my hopes were high for this product. I imagined it would be a more gently sweet version, made with whole fruit (which doesn’t count as “added sugar”) rather than the white and/or brown sugar typically used. But after seeing the product’s ingredient list, my hopes were dashed. Like many no-added-sugar products, it contained an artificial sweetener.

The World Health Organization recently advised avoiding artificial sweeteners because significant benefits are not evident, and there are concerns that the additives may cause harm in the long run. But safety was not the issue for me here — a little artificial sweetener now and then is probably fine, and not necessarily worse for you than regular sugar. For me, the issue was flavor. I have yet to meet an artificial sweetener that doesn’t leave me with an unpleasant aftertaste. Although disappointed about the product, the upside is that I was ultimately inspired to create this no-added-sugar baked bean recipe — the one I had wished for all along.

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Here, tender beans are smothered in a lip-smacking sauce that gets its sweetness solely from whole, pitted dates. To be clear: While there’s no added sugar in the recipe, it is not sugar-free. Dates are dried fruit, which has a concentration of inherent sugar, but because the sugar in the whole ingredient is naturally “packaged” with fiber, minerals and antioxidants, it’s absorbed more gradually and has more health benefits than refined sugar does. Equally important, dates’ distinctively deep flavor works beautifully in this dish.

To make the sauce you simply whir the dates in a blender with apple cider vinegar, tomato paste, mustard powder, smoked paprika and a little water. You then add that sweet-tangy-savory-smoky sauce to the pot with sautéed onion, along with three cans of navy beans, and bake until the mixture is bubbling, the flavors have melded and the sauce has thickened. The result is the quintessential, comfort-food-classic baked-bean taste, sweetened entirely with real, flavorful fruit — my baked-bean dreams come true.

Get the recipe: Date-Sweetened Baked Beans

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