Figs, one of mankind’s oldest fruits, is only now receiving its due attention in homes across the United States.

Although considered a fruit, the fig is actually a flower inverted into itself. They are the only fruit to ripen on the tree. This highly nutritious fruit arrived in the United States by Spanish missionaries settling in Southern California in 1759. Fig trees were soon planted throughout the state.

Figs

Figs are one of the oldest known fruits. Ninety percent of all figs grown are dried. The most popular fig is the Calimyrna. (There are over 150 varieties). Size is not an indicator of the quality.

Figs are thought to be originally from small Asia and are one of the first fruits cultivated ever. It has been said throughout time, that humans could live on Figs alone as a source of food!

Figs are uniquely pollinated by small fig wasps.

For the most antioxidants, choose fully ripened figs; research conducted at the University of Innsbruck in Austria suggests that as they ripen, almost to the point of spoilage, antioxidant levels actually increase.

Figs are a rich source of calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin B6, and potassium. Figs are low in fat and high in fiber. They provide more fiber than any other common fruit or vegetable.

Fresh figs are very delicate and perishable. Because of this, the majority of figs are dried. When purchasing dried figs, make sure that they are still relatively soft, free of mold, and have a mellow, pleasant smell. Dried figs are available throughout the year.

Sulfites are used to help preserve dried figs. Sulfites can cause adverse reactions in an estimated one out of every 100 people. The Federal Food and Drug Administration estimates that 5 percent of asthmatics may suffer a reaction when exposed to sulfites.

Keep ripe figs in the refrigerator where they will stay fresh for about two days. Since figs can easily bruise, store them on a paper towel lined plate or in a shallow container.

Figs have many health benefits. Fresh and dry figs are high in pectin, a soluble fiber that can reduce blood cholesterol.

The fruit is also believed to have a laxative effect and can aid those who suffer from chronic constipation.

The soluble fiber contained in figs can help people cut down on snacking because it causes nutrients to be absorbed more slowly, making people feel more satisfied after a meal. However, it should be remembered that Figs are high in calories.

Resources: The Whole Foods Encyclopedia, Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia.

Fig and Port Milkshake Recipe

Simmer 1 cup port and 1/3 cup chopped dried figs until the liquid is reduced by half; cool, then blend with 1 tablespoon port.

Fig Paste

Different fig varieties, including Mission and Calimyrna figs, are used to make fig pastes ranging in color and consistency.

Calimyrna figs require a unique type of pollination by the tiny Blastophaga wasp. This process was first successfully completed in California by George Roeding, who hand-pollinated figs brought from Smyrna, Turkey. When the trees produced ripened figs in 1900, he combined the words, Smyrna and California to rename the figs Calimyrna.

Mission figs grow in two crops per year. The first crop in late June is used for fresh figs, and the second follows later in summer at the same time as many other fig varieties.

The second Mission crop is dried for consumer packages of figs and industrially used for fig paste.

Make Vanilla Milkshakes: Blend 1-pint low fat vanilla ice cream, 1/4 cup milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla and a pinch of salt.

Layer the vanilla milkshake mixture in a soda fountain glass with the port mixture.

Note of Caution

Fresh figs are very perishable. Once dried, figs are easy to transport and can last for months. Eat as snacks or dessert by themselves, or use in baking and other dishes.

Varieties of Figs

Figs Varieties

There are hundreds of fig varieties but the following are most commonly found in today’s markets.

  • The Calimyrna Fig: Is known for its nut-like flavor and golden skin. This type is commonly eaten as is.
  • The Mission Fig: Was named for the mission fathers who planted the fruit along the California coast. This fig is a deep purple which darkens to a rich black when dried.
  • The Kadota Fig: Is the American version of the original Italian Dattato fig, that is thick-skinned with a creamy amber color when ripe. Practically seedless, this fig is often canned and dried.
  • The Brown Turkey Fig: has copper-colored skin, often with hints of purple, and white flesh that shades to pink in the center. This variety is used exclusively for the fresh fig market.

Figs Fit For Any Special Diet

The unique satiny texture and seeds of figs provide a satisfying mouth feel and crunch.

To remedy the crystallization of dried figs (similar to what happen to honey), sprinkle one-half cup of dried figs with a teaspoon of water, cover loosely and microwave for 30 seconds to one minute.

Figs Nutrition

Nutritious biblical figs can be part of almost any special diet, be it low fat, low sodium, high fiber, weight loss, diabetic or even the Mediterranean. They satisfy a sweet tooth without adding any fat.

  • Figs are fat-free, sodium-free and, like other plant foods, cholesterol-free.
  • One serving of figs is 40 grams, about 1/4 cup, or about 3 Calimyrna figs or about 4 to 5 Mission figs.
  • A small serving of about 1-1/2 dried figs equals one fruit exchange, or 15 grams of carbohydrate, provided in the form of glucose and fructose.
  • Figs are high in fiber, providing 20-percent of the Daily Value — more dietary fiber per serving than any other common dried or fresh fruit.
  • Of the approximately five grams of fiber per serving of figs, four grams are insoluble and one gram is water-soluble.
  • Figs have the highest overall mineral content of all common fruits. A 40 gram (1/4 cup) serving provides 244mg of potassium (helps to control blood pressure), 53mg of calcium and 1.2mg of iron.
  • Before eating or cooking figs, wash them under cool water and then gently remove the stem. Gently wipe dry.
  • Dried figs can be eaten fresh, used in a recipe as is, or simmered in water or fruit juice for several minutes to make them plumper and juicier.

The Fig Tree

New plantings of fig trees reach fruit bearing age after 5 to 7 years, and can produce fruit for 100 years or more. Fruit begins appearing on fig trees in May, and is available as late as October when the final picking of the fruit is completed.

Availability of Figs

Fresh figs are available July through September. Dried figs are never out of season, and are available all year. You can find them in your favorite grocery store in the produce or dried fruit section.

Selecting Figs

Look for figs that are soft and smell sweet. Handle carefully because their fragile skins bruise easily.

Storing Figs

Store fully ripened figs in the refrigerator up to 2 days; bring to room temperature before serving.

Using Dried Figs As a Replacement For Fat in Your Recipes

Dried figs are a great source of fiber. Because drying concentrates the fruit, dried figs have seven grams of fiber per half cup, courtesy of the small seeds embedded in the fruit’s flesh.

Dried figs are excellent replacement for fat in baked goods. Just remember when using dried figs to replace shortening or oil in baking do not overmix or overbake. Use only half of the normal amount of shortening, margarine, butter or oil, in a recipe when using dried puree. For instance, if 1 cup of margarine is called for, use only 1/2 cup. Then use 1/2 of the fig puree. Here is a simple fig puree recipe to include in your baking recipes.

An Insulin-Lowering Leaf

The leaves of the fig tree are one of fig’s edible parts. In some cultures, fig leaves are a common part of the menu. The leaves of the fig have repeatedly been shown to have anti-diabetic properties and can actually reduce the amount of insulin needed by persons with diabetes who require insulin injections. In one study, a liquid extract made from fig leaves was added to the breakfast of insulin-dependent diabetic subjects in order to produce this insulin-lowering effect.

Eating Figs

  • Poach figs in juice or red wine and serve with yogurt or frozen desserts.
  • Add quartered figs to a salad of fennel, arugula and shaved Parmesan cheese.
  • Fresh figs stuffed with goat cheese and chopped almonds can be served as hors d’oeuvres or desserts.
  • When preparing oatmeal or any other whole grain breakfast porridge, add some dried or fresh figs.

Figs are Flowers

Unlike other tree fruits or nuts, fig trees have no blossoms on their branches; their flowers are inverted and develop inside the fruit. These tiny flowers produce the small, crunchy seeds that give figs their unique texture.

Biblical References

And they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. –Genesis 3:7

The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. –Song of Solomon 2: 13

They shall sit every man under his vine, and under his fig tree. –Micah 4: 4

Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? –St. Matthew 7: 16

Fig and Raspberry Dessert Recipe

  • 2 fresh figs, quartered
  • 10 fresh raspberries
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon Greek yogurt

Place the figs and raspberries in a shallow bowl and drizzle with the honey. Sprinkle with the cocoa powder and serve topped with the yogurt or with the yogurt on the side for dipping. 1 serving.

Nutrition information: Calories: 101; Fat: 0.7g; Saturated Fat: 0g; Cholesterol: 1mg; Sodium: 6mg; Carbohydrates: 24.4g; Dietary Fiber: 3.8g; Protein: 2.2g

Fig Puree

2 cups dried figs
3/4 cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla

Puree figs, water and vanilla in blender or food processor. Use as directed. Makes about 1-1/2 cups.

Nutritional analysis per serving: Calories 178, Protein 2g, Fat 1g, Calories From Fat 4 percent, Cholesterol 0mg, Carbohydrates 44g, Fiber 9g, Sodium 9mg.

Did you know?

The first week of November is National Fig Week.

Read More: Food Facts