The first week of November is National Fig Week – so what better time than now to talk about figs! A fig is a soft, sweet fruit often used to make jam and chutney. A fully developed fig features bell or pear shape with succulent flesh inside. Fig trees actually have no blossoms on their branches; the blossom is inside of the fruit! Many tiny flowers produce the crunchy little edible seeds that give figs their unique texture.
Figs are one of the earliest fruits cultivated by man. Native to areas from Asiatic Turkey to northern India, figs spread to all the countries around the Mediterranean. Today, the United States, Iran, Turkey, Greece, and Spain are the primary producing nations of dried figs.
Worldwide, there are thought to be more than 1,600 varieties of figs. In the United States, California produces 100% of the nation’s dried figs and 98% of the fresh figs. California grows many varieties of figs, but the two most common are the golden, slightly nutty-flavored Calimyrna and the dark purple, sweet Mission.
Figs are available all around the season; however, they are at their best from May through November. Figs must be allowed to ripen fully on the tree before picked. They can be enjoyed fresh, and after sun or artificial drying.
While buying fresh figs, look for uniform, ripe ones that are soft in hand and emit a sweet, pleasant aroma. Fig fruits perish rather very quickly and should be eaten while fresh or else should be placed inside the refrigerator where they keep well for 2-3 days. Place them in a plastic or zip pouch and store in the refrigerator set with high relative humidity. However, dried figs can stay for 6-8 months.
To eat fresh fruits, wash them in cold water, mop them dry gently using soft cloth or tissue. Fresh figs can be eaten 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 palatability.
Figs naturally do not contain any fat, cholesterol, or sodium making them ideal for a healthy diet. This fruit is also low in calories, yet they are rich in health benefiting soluble dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins, and pigment anti-oxidants that contribute immensely towards optimum health and wellness.
Dried figs are an excellent source of minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants. In fact, dried fruits are higher concentrated sources of energy, minerals and vitamins. Fresh figs, especially black mission, are good anti-oxidants and their anti-oxidant value is comparable to that of apples.
In addition, fresh figs contain adequate levels of some of the anti-oxidant vitamins such as vitamin A, E, and K. Figs help scavenge harmful oxygen derived free radicals from the body and thereby protect us from cancers, diabetes, degenerative diseases, and infections.
Furthermore, research studies suggest that the chlorogenic acid in fig helps lower blood sugar levels and control blood-glucose levels in type-II diabetes mellitus (adult onset) condition. The fiber that naturally occurs in figs may also help reduce cardiovascular disease and obesity.
Fresh, as well as dried figs contain good levels of B-complex group of vitamins such as niacin, pyridoxine, folates, and pantothenic acid. These vitamins function as co-factors for metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Loaded with Minerals
Dried figs are an excellent source of minerals like calcium, copper, potassium, manganese, iron, selenium, and zinc. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure. Copper is required in the production of red blood cells. Iron is required for red blood cell formation as well for cellular oxidation.
Cooking Ideas and Benefits
Cooking with figs also provides benefits. Figs naturally help hold in moisture in baked goods, keeping them fresher. Fig puree can also be used to replace fat in baked goods.
There are a number of ways to use fresh or dried figs. Sweet, succulent fig fruit is best enjoyed as it is without any additions. Additionally, fresh figs are a great addition to salads, cakes, and even ice creams. Dried fig can be added to soup and stews, and can enrich poultry, venison, or lamb meat. Dry figs are excellent additions to muffins, cakes, sandwiches, pies, and cheesecakes.
Give It a Try
Celebrate National Fig Week by experimenting with the fruit. Many may know the well-known Fig Newtons® cookies, but what they don’t realize is that they can use fig, fresh or dried, in their own kitchen. Adding it to sweet or savory dishes, making jam or chutney, or even enjoying it plain is sure to be palatable!