What are figs and how to eat them?
You might be surprised to learn that figs aren't actually a fruit at all. Technically, they are upside-down flowers, and all of those seeds are individual flowers, kind of like a strawberry from the inside out. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the special qualities of figs.
Since the inside of the "fruit" is actually the flower, pollinators need to get inside. Enter the fig wasp. This is a specific type of wasp that is specialized in pollinating figs. The wasp enters the male fig, lays its eggs, dies, and the next generation of wasps leaves the fig and continues the pollination cycle. The figs we eat are female figs from these plants and do not contain any dead wasps. However, many commercially grown fig varieties are self-pollinating and require no wasps at all.
Once you get your hands on figs, you may wonder how to eat them. Their thin skins are edible, so pop a whole fig into your mouth first. Dried figs are also a great choice - especially sparkling in baked goods and salads. Fresh figs are fragile, and since shipping is often expensive, dried figs are a more cost-effective way to experience figs. They add the perfect sweetness to salads or desserts. The figs also cooked well. Roasting them brings out more of their rich, honey-like caramel flavor.
Types of figs
The most common type of fig you'll come across is the black mission fig. Their skin is a deep purple, almost black, with a ruby red interior and a sweet, tasty flesh. Brown or Turkish figs are dark brown with tinges of purple and green. Internally, they are pink, drier and less sweet than figs.
Adriatic figs are bright green with a thick white pith and a purple interior. The skin is thicker and firmer than other varieties, with a vegetal and floral sweetness. Calimyrna figs are also green, but tend to be brighter in color and much larger than Adriatic figs. Their flavor is milder, with a distinctly nutty flavor.
A 30 g serving of dried figs provides:
- 68 kcal/290 joules
- 1.1 grams protein
- 0.5g fat
- 15.9 grams carbohydrates
- 3G optical fiber
- 291 mg potassium
- 75 mg calcium
- 24 mg magnesium
- 1.26 mg iron
- 34 kcal/148KJ
- 1.0 g protein
- 0.2 g fat
- 7.6 grams of carbohydrates
- 1.6 grams fiber
- 160 mg potassium
- 12 mg magnesium
- 30 mg calcium
- 120 micrograms of carotene
5 great health benefits
1. Promote digestive health
Figs are often recommended for nourishing and toning the intestines, and they can act as a natural laxative due to their high fiber content. The fiber they provide also has prebiotic properties, which feeds gut bacteria and promotes a healthy gut environment, improving digestive health.
2. Rich in antioxidants
Figs, especially ripe figs, are rich in protective plant compounds called polyphenols. These compounds have protective antioxidant properties, which means they help prevent oxygen from reacting with other chemicals and causing damage to cells and tissues, so they are key to controlling oxidation.
3. May support healthy blood pressure
Many of us consume too much sodium (salt), which is found in processed foods. Consuming high amounts of sodium can lead to potassium deficiency, and this imbalance can lead to high blood pressure. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, including fresh figs, naturally increases potassium levels and therefore helps control blood pressure.
One study examining the specific effects of fig extract in animals showed a decrease in blood pressure in both normotensive and hypertensive people.
4. May support bone health
Figs are a good source of bone-healthy minerals like calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. Figs are particularly rich in calcium, with some studies showing they contain 3.2 times more calcium than other fruits.
Being a good source of potassium may help counteract the excretion of calcium in the urine caused by a high-salt diet. This in turn helps retain calcium in the bones, potentially reducing the risk of osteoporosis.
5. Can improve diet quality and help with weight management
Figs are naturally high in dietary fiber and rich in vitamins and minerals and may be a useful dietary ingredient that increases the nutrient density of diets and thereby aids in weight management. High-fiber foods create a feeling of satiety, which can reduce hunger and cravings, while key nutrients improve blood management.
Are figs safe for everyone?
If you are allergic to birch pollen, you may have a cross-reaction to certain fruits, including figs. Fig tree also contains natural latex, which some people are allergic to.
If you have been advised to follow a low-oxalate diet, you should be aware that figs contain high levels of oxalates. They are also rich in vitamin K, so if you take blood-thinning medications, you should include figs and other vitamin K-rich foods every day.
Not everyone likes to eat figs. For example, vegetarians may avoid eating figs because some varieties are pollinated by wasps, which die during the pollination process. Commercial figs are grown without wasp pollination so should be acceptable
If you're new to figs, enjoy them in moderation as large amounts may have a laxative effect.
If you are taking prescription medications, always consult your GP or registered dietitian before making any dietary changes.
What do figs taste like?
Figs have a unique flavor; comparing them to other things is difficult. Their flavor is deep and rich, like concentrated honey. They are sticky, sweet, jammy, and pulpy on the inside. There's a lot of fiber and tiny seeds in it, and the texture is similar to strawberry seeds, but without any juice. If you've ever had fig jam on a charcuterie platter or sandwich, the figs already taste almost like jam fresh off the tree.
How to cook with figs
Figs have a cooked caramel flavor when fresh, so they require minimal cooking to achieve their brightest shine. Fig jam is a delicious and simple way to use it while still showcasing its delicate and unique flavor. Figs pair well with equally tangy flavors like honey and caramel, while their light acidity cuts through fatty ingredients like dairy. Figs are a jewel in baked goods, especially cakes. Figs bring sweetness to salty foods and add umami flavor when cooked.
Figs are very versatile; they can be used in sweet or savory recipes. Try using them as a cookie filling or as the shining star in a fig-ricotta cheesecake. Figs love cream cheese and high-fat nuts, which makes them perfect for recipes like Fig and Roasted Almond Brie that are sure to be a crowd-pleaser at your next party. Figs are also great, just cut and tossed into salads. Pair them with peppery arugula, creamy goat cheese, refreshing balsamic vinegar, funky Gorgonzola, and more—the combinations are endless! Consider using fig jam to retain the excess.
Figs and Dates
Although both are dried fruits, figs and dates are very different. Dates are almost always dried, while figs are often eaten raw. Dates have one large, inedible seed, while figs have many small, edible seeds. Dates are soft and sticky, while dried figs are drier to the touch.
Their appearance is also very different - dates are rectangular, almost translucent brown, with a slightly shiny skin. However, figs are round, lighter in color, or in some cases nearly black, and have a more matte appearance. Both are delicious and have a super sweet caramel flavor, and were traditionally used as a sweetener before the advent of commercial sugar.
Fresh figs are very fragile, so be careful when storing them. Therefore, it is best to eat figs the same day you buy them. If not, place them in a well-ventilated container on the counter for about three days. Avoid stacking them on top of each other. Storing figs in the refrigerator is not recommended; while it may extend the life of the figs by a day or two, cold temperatures will destroy the fig's flavor, which isn't a worthwhile trade-off if you ask us.