For this month’s ingredient spotlight, I have decided to focus on fresh figs. Most of the figs we see here in the supermarket are dried figs, and dried figs are great, but the taste and texture of fresh figs is amazing. Scroll on down for history, nutrition, recipes, and more!
Every year about August, I start going around the supermarkets in the area looking for fresh figs, and when I find them, I scoop them up! Occasionally I can even get fresh, local figs. New England is not the most fig-friendly area for growing, but there are a few enterprising farmers around. Local or imported from warmer regions, I can never get enough fresh figs.
Why fresh figs?
Because they are amazing! And honey-sweet! And juicy! And a little crunchy from the tiny seeds! You totally need to find some and try them for yourself. There is a reason humans have loved and cultivated figs for thousands and thousands of years.
Onto the ingredient spotlight:
What are figs?
Figs are a fruit which isn’t a fruit. Bet you didn’t know that! 🙂
What we think of as the fruit of the fig is actually a cluster of hundreds of flowers which have inverted, so instead of being on the outside, they are on the inside of a sphere (the outer covering of the fig), and each one of them needs to be pollinated to create the fruits. The fruits are tiny bubbles in the center of the fig, called drupelets. When you cut open a fig, you see all the tiny seeds. Each seed was a flower. Cool, huh? The technical term for this is a synconium.
The synconium on a fig tree is pollinated by a specialized insect called a fig wasp. Without the fig wasp, we wouldn’t have figs! (Noting that, as with other plants, there is variation in figs and some varieties do not need to be pollinated, especially many modern cultivated figs.)
Where do figs come from?
Figs are one of the oldest cultivated foods. Archeologists have found evidence of domesticated figs in a site in Jericho from over 11,000 years ago! From there, figs spread through the Middle East, into the Mediterranean and through Asia, and then into the Americas and Northern Europe in the 1500s. Figs are a sub-tropical tree and do best in areas with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. However, there are many species of figs and humans have adapted them for climates all over the world.
Here in the US, we have four main types of fresh figs available to us – Brown Turkey Figs, Black Mission Figs, Kadota Figs, and Calimyrna Figs. The colors of these figs range from the deep purple Black Mission Figs to the pale greenish-yellow Calimyrna Figs. Black Mission Figs are the type I usually find in the store and I think what most people picture as a fig. However, don’t walk past the golden and green varieties! Kadota and Calimyrna are both quite wonderful as well.
What do figs taste like?
Dried figs tend to be intensely sweet and they lose a lot of the complexity of fresh figs. Even if you are not a fan of dried figs, I would urge you to give fresh figs a try!
Fresh figs have a juicy flesh which ranges from sweet to very sweet and is often described as having both a nutty and honey-like flavor. (Which is probably why I, and many others, like to pair them with nuts and honey!) The seeds are tiny, but many, and make a little crunch as you eat them. The skin is a tad chewy, which makes it a nice contrast to the very soft flesh within. Some figs have tougher skins and are usually peeled.
Fresh figs are wonderful eaten out of hand, in tarts and pastries, simply roasted or grilled in appetizers, as a sweet dimension in savory dishes, and in so many other recipes.
I personally find they are best used gently so the flavor and texture of the figs is allowed to shine. There are any number of fig jams and packs of dried figs out there for recipes calling for more intense cooking. However, I speak as someone who needs to search out precious, ripe figs. If you know someone with a fig tree who is overwhelmed by their bounty, totally grab a bushel and make some jam. ?
What’s the nutritional info on figs?
Figs are a good source of dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble. They are also a source of potassium, manganese, and vitamin K, as well having a number of antioxidants. Figs have been shown to contain substances which can lower blood pressure, help with blood sugar, protect the heart, and even reduce your chances of macular degeneration and some cancers. I don’t know if figs can actually do all these wonderful things, but they are good for you and it certainly can’t hurt to add figs to your diet.
How do you cook figs?
But enough about how awesome fresh figs are and how you should go out and find some right now. You need some recipes! Like many fruits, one of the best ways to enjoy figs is simply to wash one off and eat it. However, if you want to do a little more and cook with the figs, I have few great ideas for you.
- Fresh Fig Crostata with Ricotta and Honey – figs are perfectly suited to top a rustic Italian tart
- Fig and Brandy Clafoutis – or a great egg-based Fresh breakfast
- Open Faced Italian Fig Sandwich – but they are not just for dessert as shown in this wonderful sandwich recipe
- Warm Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onion Salad – and like many sweet fruits, they balance nicely with acidic dressings and savory ingredients in salads
- Yogurt with Fresh Figs, Honey, and Pine Nuts – a simple dish for breakfast when you just want to eat and go
- Balsamic Fig Glazed Pork With Blistered Cherry Tomatoes And Creamy Gorgonzola Polenta – but if you want to go all out for dinner, fresh figs will go with you there too!
And here are my fig recipes: