Delicious, sweet figs are one of the most popular fruits enjoyed since ancient times; along with dates, figs have been part of human literature for centuries. Figs can trace their history back to the earliest of times with mentions in the Bible and other ancient writings. They are thought to have been first cultivated in Egypt. They spread to ancient Crete and then subsequently, around the 9th century BC, to ancient Greece, where they became a staple foodstuff in the traditional diet.
Figs are rich in natural health promoting phytonutrients, antioxidants, and vitamins. Ripe figs are bell or pear shaped with succulent, juicy flesh inside. Dried figs, are wonderfully chewy and satisfying.
Botanically speaking figs belong to the mulberry family (Moraceae), in the genus: Ficus. Scientific name: Ficus carica.
The fig tree is native to temperate regions in and around Turkey, but today are grown as an important fruit of commerce in the eastern Mediterranean climates, USA, and Spain. During each season, fig bears several hundreds of pear-shaped fruits twice a year, which vary in size and color depending on the variety.
Figs are valued highly in culinary circles in part because they have an awesomely unique taste and texture. Figs are lusciously sweet and feature a complex texture that combines the chewiness of their flesh, the smoothness of their skin when fresh, and the crunchiness of their seeds.
While several cultivars of fig exist, the traditional varieties commonly grown are Black Mission, Kadota, Calimyrna, Brown Turkey and Adriatic:
- Black Mission: blackish-purple skin and pink colored flesh
- Kadota: green skin and purplish flesh
- Calimyrna: greenish-yellow skin and amber flesh
- Brown Turkey: purple skin and red flesh
- Adriatic: the variety most often used to make fig bars, which has a light green skin and pink-tan flesh
- Fresh figs are low in calories; 100 g, or about 2 figs have only 74 calorie, and modest amounts of fiber, potassium, beta-carotene and vitamin K
- All figs have health-promoting properties beyond their vitamin and mineral content. They contain phytonutrients such as polyphenolic flavonoids, tannins, and chlorogenic acid. Phytonutrients from plant foods have been shown to promote health by turning off disease-promoting genes and turning on disease-fighting genes.
- The phytonutrients in figs can help to reduce the risk for cancer, diabetes, and other age-related chronic diseases
- Specifically around blood sugar management, studies have shown that the chlorogenic acid in figs [also found in coffee] help lower and control blood glucose [blood sugar] levels in Type 2 diabetes; chlorogenic acid can also help to prevent diabetes by optimizing insulin metabolism.
- Dried figs are more concentrated in nutrients; once the water has been removed through dehydration, you can get more dried figs per 100 g serving compared to fresh figs. 100 g, or 12 dried figs, provide 250 calories, 3 g protein, 10 g fiber, 162 mg calcium, 2 mg iron, 680 mg potassium !!, as well as, beta-carotene and vitamin K.
- Potassium is the best mineral to help lower and maintain blood pressure – in fact it’s better to increase your intake of potassium than to lower your intake of sodium if you want to reduce your blood pressure using diet.
Fresh figs can be available all-around the season; however, they are at their best from May through November. While buying fresh figs, look for uniform, ready ones that are soft, emitting sweet, pleasant aroma.
Avoid very soft, broken, bruised, fungus inflicted fruits. Similarly unripe green fruits as they are bitter (astringent) and lack true fig flavor.
Fig fruit perishes rather very quickly and should be eaten while fresh or else should be placed inside a sealed container and stored in the refrigerator – they will stay fresh for 2-3 days. Like all dried fruit, dried figs will keep or 6-8 months.
Cooking and eating figs
Figs must be allowed to ripen completely on the tree itself before picking. They can be enjoyed fresh and after the artificial or sun drying.
To eat fresh fruits, wash them in cold water, mop them dry gently using soft cloth or tissue. One may eat fresh figs whole, or peeled. If taken out from the cold storage, place in a bowl of water to bring them back to normal room temperature which enriches their taste and flavor.
- Both fresh & dried figs can be enjoyed as is without any additional sugar/seasonings etc.
- Fresh & diced dried figs are an excellent addition to salads, muffins, quick breads etc
- Add thinly slice fresh figs on pizza
- Dried figs can be added to soup, stews and to enrich poultry, venison, lamb meat.
- Dry figs are excellent additions to breakfast cereal where they can be added and simmered with oatmeal, oat-bran or quinoa porridge
- Sliced fresh figs add an amazing hit of sweetness to meat or savory sandwiches
- Figs can be stewed with fresh or dried fruits to make a compote; serve this as a preserve, on top of yogurt, cooked cereals or protein shakes and smoothies for natural sweetness and extra fiber