These gluten-free energy balls with dates and oats have a slightly chewy, nougat-like texture and a heavenly hint of caramel taste—who can resist that!
They contain healthy fats, proteins and are refined sugar-free. Plus, you can easily make them dairy-free, vegan, nut-free, and play around with other spices and flavors.
I love them for breakfast, as a post-workout snack, a quick dessert, or an on-the-go snack.
But with a little bit of dressing up, they also can become a beautiful fall treat that brightens any Holiday table.
These energy balls were born accidentally with the idea of making a pumpkin pie crust which never took off because we all kept picking on the chewy caramel-tasting base.
So, with some adjustments to what should have been a pie crust, I turned these few ingredients into low-effort energy balls—well, they're equally well-suited to serve as a treat.
And if you have a large family or big snackers, you can easily make them ahead and double or triple the batch because they stay well for a few weeks in the fridge or longer in the freezer.
This recipe gets you 15 energy bites.
- When refrigerated, they slightly harden and develop a lovely nougat-like texture.
- Medjool dates give these bites a natural caramel-like flavor. But, I'll share substitutions.
- Yes, you can make energy balls with gluten-free steel-cut oats—I highly recommend it. When lightly toasted in (coconut) butter, they add a lovely nutty flavor.
- Pumpkin pie spice makes them a special treat. But you can change up the flavors, and I give you some options.
- The best part is that by swapping some ingredients, you can quickly change this gluten-free snack into a nut-free or vegan one.
- The wholesome ingredients make it a healthy treat when enjoyed in moderation—because they're sweet enough to pass as a dessert.
- Also, you can share them on your Holiday table with just a few extras.
What you'll need & Substitutions
You only need a few essential ingredients, and some add-ins can be swapped based on what you have on hand or what you prefer flavor or diet-wise.
- Butter or coconut butter (to keep it dairy-free and vegan-friendly);
- gluten-free steel-cut oats;
- pumpkin pie spice for extra flavor (see other options below);
- A medley of nuts like whole cashews, pecans, almonds (see options below to make it nut-free);
- A natural sweetener like Medjool dates and black raisins (see variations below).
How to make these energy balls
Toasting the Oats
- For about 4 to 5 minutes, toast the raw oats in some melted butter over medium-low heat until they are a few shades darker.
- They will smell almost like popcorn—no kidding.
- It gives them a lovely crunchy texture with a buttery consistency and makes them easy to process in the blender.
- You want to go for steel-cut oats because it adds a depth of flavor, rich nuttiness, and a subtle sweetness to these energy bites.
- If preferred, you can add one teaspoon of coconut sugar while toasting—optional but perfect if you want to make these treats into a Holiday worthy bite.
- Allow the oats to cool just a tad before you process them into the blender.
- But don't cool completely. The toasted grain might harden into clumps, and then it will be hard to get them out of the pan.
Blending all the ingredients
- Use a Vitamix, a Nutribullet type of blender, or a food processor.
- I recommend adding in the toasted oats first to ensure that they will be processed entirely, followed by the spices, soft dates, raisins, and nuts.
- The mixture should have a beautiful smooth consistency.
Note: The color of the mixture may vary based on the color of the toasted oats, the type of natural sweetener, and the nuts used.
Use a spoon or one tablespoon measurement of the mixture and roll it into balls. Repeat until done.
Chill & Serve
Usually, I place them on a large plate slightly separated from each other to prevent them from sticking and let them completely cool somewhat in the fridge before serving. Chilling is optional, but I highly recommend it.
If you want to store them immediately for later, place them in an airtight container, preferably separated with parchment paper between each layer.
Energy Ball Variations
Nuts versus nut butter
I usually make these energy balls with cashews and pecans. Don't have any on hand? Use other nuts you like, such as almonds or even almond butter instead.
Note: if you opt for a nut or seed or tahini butter instead of whole nuts, the texture will be slightly softer.
Make it nut-free
For those who have nut allergies, sunflower butter is a great alternative, and I have used it many times myself in this recipe.
Make dairy-free or vegan-friendly energy balls
To make it vegan-friendly, you only have to swap real butter for coconut butter or coconut oil. That's it!
Other spices or flavors you can use
Want to change it up?
Use Dutch Speculoos instead—it gives you that warm autumn smell and tastes that Pumpkin Pie spice can do.
All good options.
Adjust the level of sweetness
The Medjool dates and half a cup of black raisins usually are plenty enough to sweeten these snacks naturally.
But feel free to pump up the number of raisins to one cup or leave them out for a less sweet taste.
You can also add a few pinches of Stevia Powder or some coconut sugar according to your taste while you toast the steel-cut oats for a sweeter experience.
Like it less sweet, use only the Medjool dates or whatever dried fruits you substitute it with, and leave out any raisins.
What can you substitute for dates
If you don't have any dates or raisins on hand or like to play with different flavors, then try the following natural sweeteners :
- dried figs
- dried prunes
- dried apricots
- dried cherries, or cranberries
- or only use dried raisins instead
At home, we prefer Medjool dates, raisins, or dried apricots. Of course, your flavors will differ based on what you choose, so pick a dried fruit you love.
Before you refrigerate, roll the energy balls a few times through a bowl filled with either
- sesame seeds
- fine unsweetened coconut shreds
- hemp seeds
- ground flax seeds
They'll stick to the energy balls and add a nice nutritional touch.
Make it a Festive Treat
Serve these energy balls in mini cupcake holders, and they become the best version of themselves during the Holidays.
How long do energy balls last
They stay well for a few weeks in the fridge or a few months in the freezer. However, you do have to let them sit on the counter after freezing, so they can soften a bit before serving.
Meal prep idea
They're a lovely rotational make-ahead snack because they are easy to pull together, store well, and are portable.
I hope you enjoy these pumpkin spice energy bites as much as my family does!
More healthy treats you might want to try
You might also like my Creamy Coconut and Protein-rich dark chocolate-covered bites. Or my Rice Crispy Cupcake Treats—the healthy way, of course. They are super fun to make with your kids too. Or try these No Flour Peanut Butter Cookies—they are a real treat.
- 4 tablespoons (50 grams) pure butter (I love Kate's Creamery 100% pure butter), or coconut butter/oil (to keep it dairy-free and vegan-friendly)
- 1 cup (160 grams) gluten-free steel-cut oats
- 2 ½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (see notes)
- ½ cup (70 grams) whole cashews (see notes)
- ½ cup (80 grams) pecans (see notes)
- ½ (90 grams) black jumbo raisins
- About 10 (235 grams) fresh, pitted Medjool dates (about one cup packed) (see notes)
- In a saucepan, melt the butter or coconut oil over medium-low heat, then bring to a gentle simmer.
- Stir in the oats and combine them with the butter.
- Cook the oats for about 4 to 5 minutes, frequently stirring, or until they are lightly toasted (you can hear the oats pop a little at the end.) Stir often because the oats can burn quickly! Remove the pan from the stove.
- Allow the oats to cool a little.
- In a blender (or food processor), add the toasted oats, then the pumpkin pie spice, nuts, raisins, and dates.
- Blend until a smooth batter is formed. If using a Vitamix, mix using a high-speed setting while using the tamper to push the ingredients around. Then continue to blend until you have a beautiful brown and smooth mixture. You'll be using the tamper to process the thick mixture through the blades.
- Take the mixture immediately out of the blender and transfer into a bowl (be careful, it can be hot.)
- When cool enough to handle, roll a spoonful into a small ball and repeat until all mixture is used.
- Enjoy immediately or store in the fridge in an airtight container!
Storage: they stay well for up to two weeks in the fridge in an airtight container or 3 months in the freezer. Let them sit on the counter for a bit after freezing, so they can soften before serving.
Nuts: instead of cashew or pecans, you can use a medley of nuts you have on hand. Almonds are a great substitute here. Nut butter can work too, but the texture of the energy balls will be softer instead of chewy.
Nut-free: sunflower or tahini butter are great alternatives.
Spices & flavors: change it up by using different spices like Dutch Speculoos, Chai, cinnamon, apple pie spice, or cacao or unsweetened cocoa powder for a more chocolatey taste (read energy ball variations in the post).
Medjool dates alternatives: dried figs, dried prunes, dried apricots, dried cherries or cranberries, or only raisins (read energy ball variations in the post). I love Medjool dates as it gives these energy bites that lovely caramel-like taste.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 20 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 167Total Fat: 8gSaturated Fat: 3gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 6mgSodium: 42mgCarbohydrates: 24gFiber: 3gSugar: 15gProtein: 2g
Disclaimer: This nutritional data is calculated using third party tools and is only intended as a reference.
This post was originally published in November 2016 and has been updated with new pictures and more information.