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Figs

Figs

Who doesn’t dig figs? This ancient, prized fruit that comes in an array of beautiful colors is filled with hundreds of crunchy seeds. An oh-so popular ingredient in apps, desserts, meats, sweets and treats, figs are very ‘in vogue’ right now.

Nutrition Highlights

These little dried fruits are mighty nutrition rock-stars. For 190 calories, ½ cup dried figs are packed with 7g fiber and are a good source of:

  • Calcium, so important for building strong bones and teeth, proper muscle and nerve development, the transmission of nerve impulses throughout the body, and assisting in muscle contraction.
  • Magnesium, a mineral necessary for muscular activity and function.
  • Potassium, a mineral that helps maintain proper fluid balance in the body. The Dietary Guidelines recommend increasing potassium in our diets.

History

No fruit has been more highly prized or has a more sustained history than figs. The small fig tree, a member of the ficus family, has been around since early civilization. Frequently mentioned in the Bible, the fig is included in descriptions of the Garden of Eden and in ancient celebrations. The early Greeks believed that figs increased strength, preserved health and helped reduce wrinkles; Magical benefits aside, they were an important food staple, especially dried, during the long winter months. Native to southwestern Asia, in time, fig trees were planted along the Mediterranean and other spots in Europe. They were first introduced to the New World by Spanish and Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century, on the southeastern coast of South Carolina. In 1769, the first fig trees were officially planted in California, close to the missions along the coast near Sonoma, thus the variety that became known as "Mission" figs.

Today, California ranks 3rd in world fig production, after Turkey and Greece, with Spain and Portugal ranking 4th and 5th. Figs are also grown in Texas and Georgia. Figs have 2 crops; one harvested in June, called brebas and another in August, that provide the true figs. The second crop is primarily harvested for drying, but both crops can also be enjoyed fresh.

Varieties

Figs come in all colors, ranging from yellow, brown, red to purple, black and many others! Fresh figs are mostly summer fruits, available from June through September, although some European figs are available throughout autumn. Figs have the best flavor when allowed to fully ripen on the tree, but once ripe they are very fragile, so most fresh figs are picked before they fully mature. Dried, they can be enjoyed year-round.

Of the hundreds of known varieties, these are the most widely available:

  • White Adriatic: Its light green-skin, medium size and sweet flavor make it extremely popular in fig bars, fig paste and other baked goods. This variety is available mostly in dried form.
  • Mission Figs: The dark-skinned, deep purple figs planted at the coastal missions have a thin skin, small seeds and are eaten fresh and dried. Its flesh turns to a rich black when dried.
  • Kadota: With green skin and purplish flesh, kadotas are somewhat smaller than the other types, usually found in the market as a whole preserved fruit packed in light syrup.
  • Calimyrna: Its name is a combination of California and Smyrna, the ancient home of this variety. Varying in color from light golden brown to rich yellow, this very large fig has amber flesh, contains large seeds and has a nut-like flavor. It is grown on a commercial scale.
  • Brown Turkey: The most commonly grown fig, its use is exclusively for the fresh fig market. It has copper-colored skin with hints of purple and pink or white flesh.
  • Celeste: About the size of a large egg, this small fig has a purplish-brown outside color when ripe and dark, sweet, moist, purple interior.

Selecting

If you've never tried a fresh fig, you're in for a true taste (and texture) experience! A truly unique fruit, it consists of soft gelatinous pulp with sweet and wonderful tiny, crunchy seeds.

When purchasing fresh figs, look for plump fruit, which may be greenish (the white type) or blue-purple in color. When fully ripe, they become soft like a peach, but should not be mushy or fall apart. A slightly shriveled look caused by the sun is completely normal. A very perishable fruit, fresh ripe figs are quite fragile and best handled with care.

When purchasing dried figs, make sure they are relatively soft and have a sweet, pleasant aroma. In the dried form, Black Mission figs can be purchased in boxes similar to prunes and raisins.

Equivalents
Mission Figs (dried) 6 oz. = 1 cup
1 Fresh Fig = 1 - 1½ oz.

Storage and Preparation

For fresh figs, if fully ripe and tender-skinned such as Mission figs, there's no need to peel them, just rinse off. If they are very firm and large, like the Calimyrna, they should be peeled, along with the thick white skin called the pith. They are best eaten within two or three days of purchase, as they do not keep well. Delicate and easily bruised, store them on a paper towel-lined plate or covered shallow container. If they are slightly under-ripe, ripen at room temperature away from direct sunlight.

Dried, they can be stored for about 6 months in a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator, wrapped tightly. To freshen, rinse with a bit of warm water or place in a warm oven at a low temperature for a few minutes. This process dissolves the sugar, turning it into a glaze.

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