Fig 101: Your Ultimate Guide To The Exquisite Fruit 

 Last Update May 28, 2023

By Jenny Z

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Fig, a fruit hailed as the "queen of fruits," is a culinary treasure that has graced the tables of the most discerning palates throughout history. This distinctive fruit originates from the ficus carica, a member of the mulberry family, and has thrived in the Mediterranean and western Asia since ancient times. Notably, the Spaniards introduced Mission Figs to the California territory during the early 16th century, adding to the rich history of this esteemed fruit.

Fig transcends culinary boundaries, effortlessly infusing its magic into various dishes. Whether nestled atop a bed of arugula in a gourmet salad, adding depth to a cheese board, or delicately wrapped in prosciutto for an irresistible appetizer, fig captivates both the palate and the imagination.

For the connoisseurs of indulgence, fig extends its enchantment to the world of desserts. Picture a luscious fig tart, with its golden crust cradling a symphony of caramelized figs, a dollop of silky vanilla-infused cream, and a hint of cinnamon. Each bite becomes a moment of pure bliss as the flavors dance harmoniously on your tongue, leaving you yearning for just one more heavenly morsel. So, what is a fig? How do you eat it? What are the health benefits of eating figs? This guide below has all the information you need to know about the edible fig. 

What is a Fig fruit?

The common fig tree, scientifically known as Ficus carica, bears delectable fruits known as fig, which civilizations have cherished for centuries. Fig is a soft, pear-shaped fruit about the size of your thumb. The fig fruit is available in purple, green, and yellow stripes, and each fruit has pink flesh and is filled with hundreds of tiny seeds.

Figs, native to the Mediterranean region and western and southern Asia, have been cultivated since ancient times. Today, fig trees are grown in most Mediterranean countries and expand globally, showcasing their widespread popularity and adaptability.

What makes figs unique is that fig trees have no blossoms on their branches, and the blossom is inside the fruit! This means the crunchy little edible seeds you are eating are seeds of many tiny flowers.

What Do Figs Taste Like?

The taste of a fig can be described as sweet, luscious, and honey-like. It has a unique flavor profile that combines the sweetness of its flesh with subtle hints of berry, caramel, and sometimes even a slight nuttiness. The texture of a ripe fig is soft and chewy, with tender flesh and delicate seeds that add a pleasant crunch. Some fig varieties may have variations in taste, with certain types being sweeter or more subtly flavored than others. 

Common Fig Varieties

There are hundreds of varieties of figs grown in various parts of the world, and there are hundreds of fig varieties. California grows wide varieties of figs, but the most common ones are the Calimyrna (golden) and Mission (dark purple).

Adriatic

Adriatic figs are characterized by their delicately sweet flavor. They are pleasantly light, with a mild, honey-like flavor. The texture is smooth and tender, making them enjoyable to eat fresh or use in recipes.

Black Mission

Black Mission figs have a deep purple to black skin and a rich, sweet flavor with a hint of berry. Their flavor is frequently likened to a jam-like sweetness, accompanied by a creamy texture.

Brown Turkey Fig

Brown Turkey figs have a purplish-brown skin and a milder, slightly nutty flavor. They are generally less sweet than other fig varieties and have a subtle earthiness.

Calimyrna

Calimyrna figs are large and have pale green to yellowish skin with amber flesh. They have a sweet, honey-like taste, slight nuttiness, and a delicate aroma.

Celeste Fig

Celeste figs are also called sugar figs because they are exceptionally sweet. This super-sweet midseason variety has brownish-purple skin and light red flesh, and this variety of figs has a rich honey-sweet flavor.

Chicago Hardy

As the name suggests, the Chicago Hardy fig is renowned for its ability to withstand colder climates. When fully ripe, Chicago Hardy figs exhibit a pleasingly enjoyable and moderately sweet taste. They are not as intensely sweet as some other fig varieties but still offer a pleasant sweetness that is balanced and satisfying. The taste profile is frequently characterized as gentle and smooth, featuring delicate hints of honey and a subtle touch of tanginess reminiscent of berries.

Kadota

Kadota figs have a mild and delicate sweetness with a honey-like flavor. They are known for their subtle and pleasant taste, less overpowering than some other fig varieties. The texture is tender, and they can be exceptionally juicy when fully ripe.

Smyrna fig

Smyrna figs, also known as Izmir figs, are a distinctive variety revered for their exceptional flavor and historical significance. Smyrna figs offer a remarkable combination of sweetness and complexity. Bite into a ripe Smyrna fig, and you'll be greeted by a luscious and honeyed sweetness that is rich and indulgent.

When Is Fig In Season In The United States

Fig season in the United States varies depending on the region and the specific fig variety. Typically, the primary fig season in the United States extends from the end of summer to the beginning of autumn. However, the exact timing of the season may differ based on factors such as climate, local growing conditions, and the specific variety being cultivated.

Warmer regions, including California and the southern states, witness an earlier fig ripening season, typically commencing in June or July and lasting until September or October. During this period, a diverse selection of fresh figs becomes widely accessible. It is worth noting that California plays a significant role in fig production, accounting for 100% of the nation's dried figs and approximately 98% of the fresh figs available.

Figs may ripen later in cooler regions or areas with shorter growing seasons. For example, figs are more likely to be harvested from late July or August through September or even into October in parts of the Midwest and Northeast.

How To Eat Fig Fruits

Source: Pixabay

How To Eat Fig Fruits

Fresh: Fresh figs make a great snack and addition to salad, yogurt, and dessert toppings. They also pair well with cheese, particularly goat cheese or other types of strong cheeses.

If you are a fan of milkshakes, figs make a great base without needing to make additional sugar.

Dried: Dried figs are higher in sugar content and higher in calories. While you should eat them in moderation, they can be enjoyed as baked goods or added to your trail mix.

Baked: Figs pair well with cheese; many will add figs as a pizza topping. And because figs are naturally sweet, they make a great addition to bread and toast.

Fig made its first commercial product appearance with the 1892 introduction of Fig Newton's cookies. Today, you can see figs in many dessert recipes, and many bakers add them to cakes, rolls, pudding, fruit tarts, and other desserts you can think of as sweeteners to replace sugar.

Stuffed: Stuffed figs can be served raw or cold. You can stuff figs with nuts, cheese, or prosciutto.

Wrapped: To balance the sweetness of figs, many wrap figs with bacon or prosciutto.

Infused: You can infuse your water with figs or make fig sangria! Figs are fun alternatives to your classic apple and orange slices.

Puree: Fig puree can be used to replace fat in baked goods.

Jam: Fig jams are a great way to use up any figs about to spoil. 

What Do Fig Fruit Pairs Well With?

Cheese: Figs and cheese make a delightful pairing. The sweetness of figs contrasts beautifully with the savory and tangy notes of various cheeses. Try pairing figs with creamy goat cheese, tangy blue cheese, or aged gouda for a harmonious flavor combination.

Nuts: The natural nuttiness of figs pairs wonderfully with different nuts. For a delightful textural and flavor contrast, consider combining figs with toasted almonds, walnuts, or pistachios.

Prosciutto: The sweet and juicy figs harmonize well with thinly sliced prosciutto's salty and savory notes. Wrap figs in prosciutto or serve them together on a charcuterie board for an elegant and delicious appetizer.

Pork: Pork, with its inherent sweetness and versatility, pairs beautifully with figs. Grilled or roasted pork tenderloin, pork chops, or even slow-cooked pulled pork can be enhanced with a fig-based sauce or served alongside a fig compote for a delightful sweet-savory combination.

Duck: The rich and flavorful meat of duck is an excellent match for the sweetness and complexity of figs. Roasted or seared duck breast, when served with a fig reduction or a fig-based sauce, creates a memorable culinary experience.

Lamb: The earthy, slightly gamey flavor of lamb pairs wonderfully with the sweetness of figs. Grilled or roasted lamb chops or a tender rack of lamb can be elevated by serving them with a fig glaze, chutney, or fig-based marinade.

Chicken: Incorporating figs into chicken dishes can infuse them with a touch of sweetness and enhance the depth of flavor. Grilled or roasted chicken breasts or thighs can be accompanied by a fig sauce, glaze, or fig-based salsa for a burst of flavor.

Arugula: The peppery and slightly bitter taste of arugula complements the sweetness of figs beautifully. Combine fresh figs with arugula in a salad, adding some goat cheese, toasted nuts, and a drizzle of balsamic glaze for a delightful flavor combination.

Honey: Enhance the natural sweetness of figs by drizzling them with a touch of honey. The combination of honey and figs creates a luxurious and decadent treat, perfect for desserts or as an accompaniment to cheese platters.

Dark chocolate: Indulge in the richness of dark chocolate alongside the sweetness of figs. Dip figs in melted dark chocolate or serve them side by side for a luxurious and sophisticated dessert pairing.

Spices: Figs can be enhanced with a variety of spices. Consider flavors such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, or even a pinch of black pepper to add depth and complexity to fig-based dishes or desserts.

Wine: Figs can be a delightful accompaniment to various types of wines, enhancing the overall tasting experience. The choice of wine depends on personal preferences and the specific preparation of the figs. For example, Port wine, Sauternes, semi-sweet Riesling, Syrah/Shiraz, Zinfandel, Gew├╝rztraminer, or Viognier.

What About Fig Leaves

While fig leaves are not commonly consumed as a food item, they have been used in certain culinary traditions and can be edible in certain contexts. Young and tender fig leaves are used as wraps or cooking vessels for various dishes in some cultures. The leaves impart a subtle and unique flavor to the food during cooking or steaming. However, it's important to note that the leaves can be quite fibrous and taste slightly bitter, so they are typically not consumed directly or in large quantities.

How To Use Fig Tree Leaves

Fig leaves have several uses beyond being edible in certain culinary traditions. Here are a few common applications for fig leaves:

Cooking: Fig leaves can be used as natural wrappers or cooking vessels. Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines often use them to wrap fish, poultry, or other ingredients before grilling, baking, or steaming. The leaves impart a gentle, earthy flavor to the food, bringing a distinct and unique element to the dish.

Herbal Tea: Steeping dried fig leaves in hot water allows for the creation of a herbal tea with soothing properties. The tea may have a mild and slightly sweet flavor, often enjoyed for its potential health benefits.

Aromatherapy: The scent of fig leaves can be quite pleasant and soothing. Some people use dried fig leaves to create potpourri or sachets, placing them in closets, drawers, or other spaces to impart a subtle fragrance.

Natural Crafts: Fig leaves are sometimes used in crafting projects, and they can be dried, pressed, or used as stencils or templates for various art and craft endeavors. Their intricate shape and veining make them visually appealing and suitable for creative pursuits.

How To Pick Figs

Selecting the perfect fig is a sensory experience that involves assessing its appearance, touch, and aroma. When it comes to picking figs, here are a few tips to help you choose the ripest and most flavorful ones:

Look for color: Ripe figs typically have a vibrant color corresponding to their specific variety. For example, Green varieties like White Genoa should have a pale green to yellowish hue when fully ripe, while Black Mission figs will display a deep purple or blackish skin tone. Avoid figs that are still predominantly green, as they are likely underripe.

Assess texture: Gently squeeze the figs to assess their firmness. Ripe figs should yield to gentle pressure but still retain their shape without feeling overly mushy. Avoid figs that are excessively soft or have blemishes, as they may be overripe or spoiled.

Follow your nose: Take a moment to inhale the aroma of the figs. Ripe figs often have a sweet and fragrant scent. If the fig emits a subtle, enticing aroma, it's a good indication of its ripeness.

How do you know when a fig is ripe

Determining the ripeness of a fig can be done by considering a few visual and tactile cues. Depending on the fig variety, a ripe fig may have different colors. Most ripe figs exhibit a deep, rich hue. Gently squeeze the fig to assess its firmness. A ripe fig will yield slightly to gentle pressure but should still retain its shape. It should feel soft but not overly mushy. Avoid figs that are overly soft or have a squishy texture, as they may be overripe or spoiled.

Ripe figs may exhibit a slight wrinkling or shriveling of the skin, particularly around the stem area. This can indicate that the fig has reached its peak ripeness. When fully ripe, figs can release a delightful and aromatic sweetness. If the fig has a subtle, enticing scent, it can positively indicate its ripeness.

How should figs be stored to keep them fresh

Determine the ripeness of your figs before deciding on the storage method. For fully ripe figs that will be consumed within a day or two, it is recommended to store them at room temperature. However, if your figs are slightly under ripe and you wish to enhance their ripening process, you can keep them at room temperature until they reach your desired level of ripeness.

How do figs grow

The fig plant, a compact deciduous tree or a sizable shrub, can reach heights of 7-10 meters (23-33 feet) and features smooth white bark. Three to five distinct deep lobes characterize its prominent leaves. The fig tree thrives in warm climates and grows wild in dry and sunny locations. It is adaptable to various altitudes, showcasing its resilience. Fig plants can be found growing at elevations reaching as high as 1,700 meters above sea level. 

Fig fruits are inverted flowers and require pollination by fig wasps. Fig plants depend on wasps to make their seeds and distribute their pollen. In return, the fig tree will act as a womb where the fig wasps can reproduce. Now, before you decide to cut ties with figs, there is good news.

The good news is the wasps carry pollen and only enter male figs through a tiny opening. And humans don't eat male figs, only females. However, a female fig wasp couldn't tell if a fig she was entering was male or female. If a female fig wasp enters a female fig, she cannot lay her eggs inside and will typically die inside, and it will get broken down as protein inside the fruit. Don't get the crunchy seeds inside the figs confused with dead wasps. Before you decide if you should continue eating figs, a large percentage of figs sold in the US are self-pollinating!


Jenny is a health-conscious, organic and natural lifestyle influencer with a Bachelor's degree in science. With years of experience working in food sciences with organic products and health & nutrition companies - she firmly believes that a natural lifestyle is healthier for you and better for the environment as well.

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