CHENNAI: Dates. The five-letter word ushers in displeasure every time my mother forcefully feeds me the fruit after breakfast. Small, chewy, dry, and mildly sweet — not the words my friends from the Arab world would use to describe the Middle-Eastern staple. Entrepreneur-cum-friends Jatin Krishna and Lazar Thomas share a similar dislike for dates available in the local markets. Unlike me, however, they didn't just stop with that. Their quest for quality dates and the interest in offering the nutrient-rich fruit in a palatable format propelled them towards starting Datelers, an Instagram-based venture in early August.
"We toyed around the idea of stuffed dates, a healthy and popular snack in Saudi Arabia. There are 100s of varieties of dates and customisable fillings that people can select from. Sadly, people here know only of Lion Dates. In Datelers, we've used a variety of Iranian dates that has a wrinkled exterior, soft texture, mild sweetness, and slightly glossy sheen. It's the closest we could get in terms of quality and taste (to the ones available in Saudi Arabia). This is an expensive affair in the Arab world but we wanted to keep it affordable for our patrons," explains Jatin.
The duo tried and tested different combinations of fillings and zeroed in on 15 nut and chocolate options. Walnuts, cashew, hazelnuts, green pistachios and almonds are a few nut variants in their arsenal. Orange, pineapple, dark, coffee, and white are a few chocolate varieties they offer. "We've been buying five kilograms of dates to experiment with and pick out the best for packing. Of which, a kilogram goes waste because it's overripe or damaged. We choose an optimum size to maintain consistency," assures Jatin.
A box of 15 dates come with standard, premium or gourmet filling. "If it's standard or premium filling, then we mince the choice of nuts with cinnamon and honey for the filling. In the case of gourmet filling, the chocolate is melted and minced with nuts. White chocolate and pistachio, and coffee and walnut, are popular combinations and hot sellers. With orange or pineapple zest, we used candied fruits and not the essence," shares Lazar, a commis chef. Lazar has a Masters degree in Culinary Arts & International Business from Cesar Ritz College, Switzerland.
We sampled their assorted fillings that came neatly-packed in a compact box. It had a mix of nut and chocolate filling. The dates were slit in the centre, deseeded, stuffed with filling, and coated with sugar syrup. My favourite was the one with dark chocolate ganache and caramelised peanuts, topped with shavings of desiccated coconut. The bitterness of chocolate and the crunchiness of nuts complemented each other so well.
The choice of fillings can be customised in case of nut allergies. The duo ensures that the cream or butter is not used beyond 20 days of being on the shelf. They have sold 60-70 boxes in a month. Orders have been pouring in from both local and international patrons. "Food business has been brewing in the last few months. Based on our research, we can confidently say that there aren't many brands that offer stuffed dates in our country. We're happy that people are enjoying the concept, especially the kids. This can make for a great corporate gift. We are also in talks with a restaurant to sell our dates," shares a happy Jatin.
Rose, cream and cookies, paan, and coconut, are a few fillings you can look out for in the future. "We want to experiment with Medjool dates. It's said to be larger, sweeter and softer than other varieties; and commonly used in desserts. Another one is Safawi, which is said to be soft and moist," says Jatin. They ship across the world.
A box of 15 with standard filling is priced at Rs 349, premium filling at Rs 399, mixed nuts at Rs 499, and assorted at Rs 499. For details, Instagram: Datelersindia or call: 9962513198