Though figs weren’t brought to the mainstream in the US until the late 1800s or early 1900s with the invention of the Fig Newton cookie, figs have been around for much longer. Early Olympians used figs as training food to boost health and performance, while ancient Romans believed figs had restorative properties, and used them to reduce wrinkles. Spaniards introduced figs to the western world, first bringing them to Europe, then to Southern California, which is now the top producer of figs in the US. The natural sweetness of figs can be contrasted by pairing them with sharper flavors such as blue cheese, or expanded by poaching them with port wine. Experiment with fresh figs by adding them to a salami and fontina cheese pizza, or roasting them with quail in a balsamic glaze.
Both fresh and dried figs are high in fiber, so one or two can be a healthy snack that satisfies both your sweet tooth and your waistline. Figs are also rich with calcium, potassium, and manganese.
The most common fresh fig in the US is the Black Mission, a teardrop-shaped fruit with dark purple skin and pinkish-brown flesh. Brown Turkey figs have a more oblong shape with brown skin and pink flesh. Kadota figs are smaller and slightly more round, with greenish-yellow skin and golden flesh.
You’ll find dried figs in vacuum-sealed packages or airtight containers, either in the produce section or the nuts and dried fruit section of your favorite grocery.
There are many varieties of figs, including Black Mission, Brown Turkey, Kadota, Adriatic, and Calimyrna. They all have one thing in common: a complex sweetness, enhanced by the different textures from the seeds, flesh, and skin.
Fresh figs are widely available in many specialty stores, major supermarkets, and farmers’ markets during peak season. Dried figs are available all year long.
In the US, fresh figs are in their prime between June and October, depending on the variety. In Europe, the season may extend into November.
Fresh figs perish rather quickly, so only purchase them a day or two before you plan to eat them. Choose fruit that are plump with rich color and have a slightly sweet aroma.
Avoid figs that are bruised, mushy, or have a sour smell.
When deciding whether to purchase organic or non-organic produce, it’s helpful to know which fruits and vegetables are most affected by pesticides. Pesticides are toxins used to kill insects, invasive plants, and fungi during the growth of produce, and are potentially dangerous to people. National and international agencies agree that prolonged exposure to specific pesticides through food consumption is a potential health risk. Additionally, some studies indicate that organic fruits and vegetables have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than conventionally raised produce.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue. In this ranking, the 12 most affected fruits and vegetables belong to the “Dirty Dozen” and the least affected are part of the “Clean Fifteen”. Figs aren’t officially ranked on either list, so whatever variety you choose to enjoy should be fine.
The Environmental Working Group and Yoffie Life stress that consuming conventionally grown vegetables and fruits when the organic version is unavailable or financially impossible is far better than eating none at all.
Keep your ripe figs in the refrigerator for a day or two. Since they bruise easily, space them out in a shallow container covered with a lid or plastic wrap.
Dried figs stay fresh for months in a cool, dry place sealed in the original purchase container or another airtight container.
Rinse fresh figs under cold running water and pat dry. Cut off the small stem, and enjoy either raw or cooked. It’s not necessary to peel figs unless they’re large and the skin is tough.
Alongside sodium and chloride, potassium is an electrolyte essential for conducting electrical reactions in the body. Potassium aids proper muscle function, digestive health, and skeletal contractions.
Vitamin K, specifically vitamin K2, is helpful for regulating and directing dietary calcium in and out of the bones. It is also responsible for proper blood clotting and may aid in protecting the arteries from calcification.
The majority of the manganese in the body is stored in the bones and organ tissue, mainly the liver and kidneys. Manganese is responsible for production and maintenance of sex hormones, blood-sugar regulation, brain and nerve function, calcium regulation and absorption, and carbohydrate metabolism.
Amino acids and lipids are the main nutrients metabolized by vitamin B6, helping to promote proper energy levels throughout the body. It is also an important aspect of the formation of hemoglobin and neurotransmitters, protecting both the cardiovascular system and brain.
Thiamine, or vitamin B1, plays an active role in metabolizing carbohydrates into a useable form of energy. B1 also contributes toward proper nerve function and acts as a coenzyme to convert ketones into other coenzymes necessary for cell metabolism.
Figs—high in antioxidants and vital minerals—are important for your digestive, heart, and bone health. They contain both soluble fiber (which absorbs water) and insoluble fiber (which does not absorb water). Both types of fiber slow down digestion and allow stool to have the proper consistency. The high potassium and low sodium levels in figs help lower blood pressure, and the combination of omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids and phytosterol compounds helps lower cholesterol levels. Figs are great for bone health because they are high in calcium. The calcium in a half cup of figs is equal to the calcium in a half cup of milk.
A note of caution: Figs contain oxalates, which are naturally occurring substances found in human beings, animals, and plants. If oxalates become too concentrated in the body, they crystallize, leading to kidney or gallbladder stones. If you’re being treated for kidney or gallbladder ailments, avoid eating figs.
1. Fig trees do not blossom. The crunchy seeds that give the fig their unique texture are actually tiny flowers.
2. In many cultures, the fig tree is a symbol of sweetness, fertility, and abundance.
3. In the US, all of the country’s dried figs and 98 percent of the country’s fresh figs are produced in California.