Figs are delicious and unique fruits from the ficus carica (common fig tree), which is part of the mulberry family. Native to the Mediterranean and western Asia, figs have been cultivated since ancient times. In fact, the Spaniards introduced Mission Figs to California territory in the early 16th century.
Figs thrive in hot, dry climates, like the Mediterranean. Turkey tops world production, followed by Egypt, Iran, Greece, Algeria, and Morocco. In the Middle East, figs are called "the poor man's food."
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 figs.
What Are Figs?
Figs are soft, pear-shaped fruit that is 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.
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?
Depending on the types of figs, they have a mild and sweet taste with a crunchy texture from the seeds.
What does fig symbolize?
The fig tree is a symbol of abundance, fertility, and passion. In Greek mythology, Dionysus, the god of agriculture, wine, fertility, and ritual madness, introduced the fig tree to humankind. His name translates to 'friend of the fig', and during celebrations to honor Dionysus, nuns would wear fig leaves garlands on their heads.
What Are The Health Benefits Of Figs?
Figs are delicious and nutritious. In Roman times, figs were considered to be restorative, and they were believed to increase young people's strength, maintain the elderly in better health, and make them look younger with fewer wrinkles – Pliny (52-113 AD).
Figs have a 55% natural sugar content, making them the sweetest of all fruits. Even though figs are sweet, they are relatively low in calories, and one small fresh fig (40g) contains 30 calories. On the other hand, dried figs have more sugar and are higher in calories as sugar becomes concentrated during the drying process.
Packed in vitamins and minerals
What makes figs unique is that both fig fruits and their leaves are packed with nutrients and offer various health benefits. Figs contain various vitamins and minerals but are particularly rich in copper, calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, sodium, and vitamin B6.
Figs are particularly high in calcium level, and on average, it contains 3.2 times higher than other fruits! Eat one-half cups of figs as much as calcium as drinking one and a half cups of milk.
Packed in fiber
Figs are high in fiber, which helps promote digestive health. Many uses of figs are a home remedy to an alternative to treat digestive problems like constipation.
The potential downside is at the same time, figs may cause diarrhea or other digestive problems.
Are Figs Safe For Everyone?
Figs are also fairly rich in Vitamin K, which plays a vital role in blood clotting, and bone and heart health. Eating figs can potentially interfere with blood-thinning medications and cause them to be less effective.
Fig tree contains natural latex, which can cause an allergic reaction for some people. And if you have an allergy to birch pollen, you can experience cross-reactivity to figs.
Common Fig Varieties
Figs are grown in various parts of the world, and there are hundreds of fig varieties. California grows many varieties of figs, but the most common ones are the Calimyrna (golden) and Mission (dark purple).
Adriatic is a hardy green fig with deep red strawberry jam tasting on the inside.
This honey-flavored late-season fig has a golden-brown outside and amber-colored flesh.
The priests at Mission San Diego originally planted figs in California in 1769. This is how the dark purple figs became known as "Mission."
Black mission fig is the most popular commercial fig grown in California, as it thrives in hot and dry climates. The purple fig with strawberry color flesh. This variety of figs has a mild, mellow yet rich flavor and jammy texture.
Brown Turkey Fig
Brown Turkish figs are prized for their fruit and foliage. Although they are called brown Turkey figs, they have rusted red to purple skin and light red flesh with a classic decadently sweet flavor.
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 and honey-sweet flavor.
A Common fig tree is what beginner growers plant in their backyard due to its ability to produce fruit without pollination.
This variety of figs has purple outside and fresh strawberry color. They have a distinctive nutty flavor that makes them pair well with cheese or charcuterie platter.
Flanders fig is a light tan with violet stripes and a long slender neck with amber inside. It has a rich, sweet and meaty texture.
Green on the outside and bright red on the inside, this late-season fig has a very sweet jammy flavor.
This black beauty is a midseason fig with a bright red flesh and sweet taste and is often used to make preserves.
LSU Gold Fig
Louisiana State University first released the LSU gold fig in 2001. LSU gold fig is a delicious yellow fig with pink hue flesh. This variety of figs has a sweet fig flavor that tastes like pears and honey.
LSU Purple Fig
LSU purple fig is a mildly sweet fig with firm white flesh and purple skin that grows midseason. This variety has a nice pleasant mild flavor.
This mild-flavored, midseason fig with a light yellow, green outside, and a whitish-yellow flesh was first introduced by Thomas Jefferson. This variety of figs has a very light honey flavor like agave.
This type of fig is a cross between a celeste fig and a caprifig and is designed to produce more high-quality fruit. A sugary sweet fig that is brownish-purple on the outside and light red on the inside and grows early in fig season.
Osborne Prolific figs are yellow, striped purplish-brown figs with opalescent flesh. This variety of figs has a sugary, caramel, and honey flavor.
This richly sweet purple-skinned midseason variety has bright red flesh. This variety of figs has a sweet fig flavor.
Violette de Bordeaux
Violette de Bordeaux is a small to medium purple-black fig variety with a deep red interior. This type of fig has a sweet and rich flavor.
White Genow are yellow-green figs with rose-colored flesh. It has a sweet, candied berries taste and a pleasantly chewy texture.
When Is Fig In Season?
California produced 100% of the nation's dried figs and 98% of the fresh figs. California figs have two crops, first in June and second, the larger harvest or the main crop later in summer and fall. But, fresh figs are typically available from mid-May through November.
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, so many will add figs as a pizza topping. And because figs are naturally sweet, they make a great addition to bread and toast.
Figs made its first commercial product appearance with the 1892 introduction of Fig Newtons 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 that are about to spoil.
What Does Fig Fruit Pairs Well With?
What About Fig Leaves?
Fig leaves are large, broad, and flat. Surprisingly fig leaves are a good source of vitamin A, B1, and B2. It is also a good source of calcium, iron, phosphorus, manganese, sodium, and potassium.
How To Use Fig Tree Leaves?
Fig leaves are a great cooking application for steaming, baking, or grilling. You can wrap meat, seafood, and vegetables inside to impart a smoky and fruity flavor.
Fig leaves can be used to steep tea or steeped in an ice cream base to create ice cream.
Fig leaves can also make a syrup for glazing meats, flavor cocktails, baked goods, and more.
How To select Figs
Besides looking for the usual smooth and unbroken skin that is slightly soft but not mushy to touch, the best way is to use your nose and smell it. If the fig has a slightly sour smell, it has already begun to ferment.
How Are Figs Grown?
As mentioned before, a fig is an inverted flower and requires 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 wouldn't be able to tell if a fig she is entering is 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!
Smyrna and San Pedro require pollination to produce fruits, Caprifig is a pollinator tree, and common types do not require pollination.
A fig tree can be grown both in-ground and in large containers for the root system. Once they are planted, they will need at least two years before they can bear fruit. The fig tree does the best in full sun, well-drained fertilized soil that is slightly acidic.
If you are thinking of getting a fig tree, note that they can be grown in various climates, from cooler coastal climates to humid environments.