Dates, often used as a behind-the-scenes binder or sweetener in snacks, spreads and sauces, have emerged front and center as a featured flavor profile in products on display at the Summer Fancy Food Show.

As consumers continue to seek natural sources of sweetness, dates are rising to the occasion as a nutritious, lower-glycemic substitute for cane or beet sugar.

Date paste has gained popularity as a plant-based sweetener among paleo and Whole30 dieters. In product formulations, the naturally occurring sugars in dates are not counted as added sugars on the Nutrition Facts Label.

Syrup and sugar derived from dates contain magnesium, potassium, antioxidants and amino acids, according to Date Lady, Inc., which offers barbecue sauce, coconut caramel sauce, chocolate spread, and sweet chili sauce featuring dates.

At the Summer Fancy Food Show, held June 23-25 in New York, Date Lady received the top innovation award in the baked foods category for Date Lady Fruitcake, a sweet and spicy grain-free loaf packed with organic pecans, cranberries, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and allspice.

In the baking ingredients category, Just Date Syrup took the top prize. Just Date Syrup is made from organic California medjool dates and may be used to sweeten coffee or tea, in baked foods, and as a replacement for sugar, honey, maple syrup, or agave, according to the company.

A new brand highlighted at the show, Wanna Date? L.L.C. offers date-based spreads as a low-calorie, allergen-free alternative to honey, dessert spreads, and nut butters. Flavors include cinnamon, pumpkin spice, vanilla, chocolate, and plain. A tablespoon contains 30 calories.

“Dates have been hidden in condiments and baked goods lately to add sweetness, but here they are the star of flavored spreads,” notes Kara Nielsen, vice-president, trends and marketing, CCD Innovation.

A staple of Middle Eastern dishes, dates appeared alongside rose in a Turkish-style gelato from Pasha Delights, L.L.C. and paired with ground sesame seeds and cinnamon in a packaged spread offered by Sweet Tahini. A Syrian date and walnut ice cream from Adirondack Creamery was inspired by a popular Middle Eastern shortbread pastry.

“Dates are very much being positioned as an authentic ingredient that fit inside a range of flavor profiles,” Nielsen says.