Figs can trace their history back to the earliest of times with mentions in ancient scriptures and the Holy Bible. They are thought to have been first cultivated in Egypt. Then subsequently, around the 9th century BC, the growth started in ancient Greece, where they became quite a staple in the traditional diet. Figs were held in very high esteem by the Greeks , so much so that they created laws forbidding the export of the fruit.
Figs were also revered in ancient Rome where they were thought of as a sacred fruit. According to Roman myth, the wolf that nurtured the twin founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, rested under a fig tree. During this period of history, at least 29 varieties of figs were already known. They range dramatically in color and subtly in texture depending upon the variety, of which there are more than one hundred and fifty. Some of the most popular varieties are:
Black Mission which are blackish-purple skin and pink colored flesh
Kadota have a green skin and purplish flesh
Calimyrna have a greenish-yellow skin and amber flesh
Brown Turkey are with a purple skin and red flesh
Adriatic is the most often used and most commonly available variety, which has a light green skin and pink flesh
Figs were later introduced to other regions of the Mediterranean by ancient conquerors and then brought to the Western Hemisphere by the Spaniards in the early 16th century. In the late 19th century, when Spanish missionaries established the mission in San Diego, California, they also planted fig trees. These figs turned out to be inferior in quality to those that were imported from Europe, and it wasn’t until the development of further cultivation techniques in the early 20th century that California began focused cultivation and processing of figs. Today, California remains one of the largest producers of figs in addition to Turkey, Greece, Portugal and Spain.
Interestingly, they are actually inverted flowers and the fig that you traditionally eat as a fruit is the seed of that flower and are hence known as ‘False fruits’. Figs are lusciously sweet and feature a complex texture that combines the chewiness of their flesh, the smoothness of their skin, and the crunchiness of their seeds.
It is a wonderful fruit with a very unique taste and texture.In addition, since fresh figs are so delicate and perishable, some of their mystique comes from their relative rarity. Because of this, the majority of figs are dried, either by exposure to sunlight or through an artificial process, creating a sweet and nutritious dried fruit that can be enjoyed throughout the year.
Although dried figs are available throughout the year, there is nothing like the unique taste and texture of fresh figs. They are lusciously sweet with a texture that combines the chewiness of their flesh, the smoothness of their skin, and the crunchiness of their seeds.
Figs range dramatically in color and subtly in texture depending upon the variety. The majority of figs are dried, either by exposure to sunlight or through an artificial process, creating a sweet and nutritious dried fruit that can be enjoyed throughout the year.
- Figs are a good source of potassium which helps to control blood pressure. Low intake of potassium-rich foods, especially when coupled with a high intake of sodium, can lead to hypertension. This is generally due to high intake of sodium in the form of salts in food.
- Figs are a good source of dietary fiber. Fiber and fiber-rich foods may have a positive effect on weight management. Figs, like other high fiber foods, are helpful in a weight management program.
- You probably do not think about the leaves of the fig tree as one of fig’s edible parts. But in some cultures, fig leaves are a common part of the menu, and for good reason. The leaves of the fig have repeatedly been shown to have antidiabetic properties and can actually reduce the amount of insulin needed by persons with diabetes who require insulin injections.
- Researchers have not yet determined exactly which substances in fig leaves are responsible for these remarkable healing effects. Besides their potassium and fiber content, figs emerged from our food ranking system as a good source of the trace mineral manganese.
How to Select and Store
Since fresh figs are one of the most perishable fruits, they should be purchased only a day or two in advance of when you are planning on eating them. Look for figs that have a rich, deep color and are plump and tender, but not mushy. They should have firm stems and be free of bruises. Smelling figs can also give you clues into their freshness and taste. They should have a mildly sweet fragrance and should not smell sour, which is an indication that they may be spoiled.
Dried figs will stay fresh for several months and can either be kept in a cool, dark place or stored in the refrigerator. They should be well wrapped so that they are not over exposed to air that may cause them to become hard or dry.
Just a note of caution when eating dried figs and its history of sulphites
Commercially grown dried figs may be treated with sulfur dioxide during processing. They may also be treated with sulfites to extend their shelf life. Sulfur-containing compounds are often added to dried foods like figs as preservatives to help prevent oxidation and bleaching of colors. The sulfites used to help preserve dried figs cause adverse reactions in an estimated one out of every 100 people, who turn out to be sulfite sensitive.