Today is National Fig Newton Day, so we have to give an ode to figs as they’re rightly due one. Figs aren’t just for eating in Fig Newtons, however. In fact, organic dried figs are one of the best dried fruits you can choose, despite being higher in sugar than fresh figs (also a great choice). Figs are offer an incredibly delectable flavor that is somewhat like a raisin, less intense than a date, but still creamy, sweet and indulgent that you just won’t get elsewhere. You can use dried figs anywhere you would normally use a date, whether it be in raw desserts, smoothies, dried granola bars, raw energy bites or however else you enjoy using dried fruit.
There’s of course, nothing wrong with dates, but you might be surprised to find that figs have a leg up on dates when it comes to nutrition. So much so, that we have to give them a spotlight today and show you just how much figs have to offer.
Check out these reasons to use dried figs more often and put those dates to the side for later use.
- 1. Richer in Fiber
- 2. Lower in Sugar
- 3. Higher Source of Minerals
- 4. Lower in Calories
- 5. Helpful For Removing Harmful Estrogens
- How to Tell When Figs Are Ripe
- How to eat figs
- What the Fig?
- Breba vs. Main Crops
- Accidental Organic Fig Farmers
- Ripe and Ready
- How to Dry Figs
- Fresh Fig: It takes time to get used to the taste
1. Richer in Fiber
Per fruit, figs offer a much better source of soluble fiber, with 4-5 grams per fruit versus dates which have around 2-3 grams. Figs are also linked to good digestive health, help to relieve constipation, and contribute to good heart health.
2. Lower in Sugar
For all of you out there who watch your sugar intake (good for you!), you’ll be glad to know that dried figs contain almost 7-10 grams less than dates per weight. Two to three dates is around 23 grams of sugar(depending on the size and variety), while the same amount of figs is only 13 grams of sugar. Since figs are higher in fiber and lower in sugar, they’re better if you have sensitive blood sugar levels.
3. Higher Source of Minerals
Figs also offer more minerals, especially iron, magnesium and calcium, in which they’re plentiful by double the amount of dates. The only exception is potassium, which figs are still high in, but not as high as dates. Figs are also higher in zinc than dates, but not by double like the other minerals. Calcium is an important nutrient for strong bones and a healthy nervous system, as is magnesium and iron. Zinc contributes to a healthy immune system and can also help keep your skin clear by combating inflammation.
4. Lower in Calories
Not to focus on calories over quality, but while we’re making a comparison, figs win in the calorie department too. Figs have 15 percent less calories than dates, which means you can eat double the amount that you can of dates and still satisfy your sweet tooth, or eat half the amount you would of dates to take in less sugar. Though it might not seem like a large amount, 15 percent by weight makes a big difference each time you eat.
5. Helpful For Removing Harmful Estrogens
Estrogen is a hormone both women (and even men) have naturally. When functioning properly, our bodies produce the right amount at the time needed. However, environmental toxins, low-quality food, and even our health can all affect how much excess estrogen we take in. Too much estrogen in the body can lead to weight gain, mood swings, contribute to menopause problems or cause polycystic ovarian syndrome in women, cause headaches, and even breast or uterine cancer. Some foods naturally help remove harmful estrogens, and figs are one of the best, most well-known foods for this issue (along with pomegranates, onions, avocados, citrus fruits, kale, and broccoli). Dates don’t offer this same benefit, so if estrogen is a concern to you, rethink using those dates and try some figs instead.
So, there you have it- five reasons to give dried figs a try. Want the most antioxidants? Go with Black Mission figs, which are higher in antioxidants than other types of figs, along with higher than all forms of dates.
Soak dried figs for 30 minutes before use so they’ll plump up nicely and puree in a jiffy! The soaking water can also be used in recipes since it’s rich in nutrients and delightful dark purple color, indicating the high antioxidant content.
Try figs in: Raw Almond Vegan Fig Bars, Speculoos Truffles with Fig Almond Crumble, Gluten-Free Fig Newton Clones, Fig and Peach Chia Smoothie, Raw Fig Pie, or Super Health Vegan Berry Fruit Tarts With Chia Seeds. Or, substitute it for dates in any of our energy bite or bar recipes, or toss them in some morning porridge as another option.
Lead Image Source: Gluten-Free Fig Newton Clones
How to Tell When Figs Are Ripe
If you have asked yourself, “When are figs ripe?”, then follow these three tips to identify ripe figs on your trees and enjoy fresh figs at their peak.
Common figs are fruits that are enjoyed fresh or dried, and they are easy to grow. Use these tips and your senses to know when your figs are ripe and ready to harvest. ” If birds and other critters keep you from harvesting your ripe figs, consider applying garden netting to protect the fruit.
3 Ways to Identify Ripe Figs
Sight Go by the color. One of the first signs your figs are becoming ripe is their change in color. Young, immature and unripe figs tend to be small and green in hue. For varieties like Brown Turkey, Chicago Hardy, Celeste, and LSU Purple, the color will change from green to brown or purple as the fruit ripens. In the case of certain fig varieties, like Kadota and LSU Gold, the fruit’s mature color is still greenish – so how do you rely on sight if the fig’s color doesn’t noticeably change? Read on! Go by the appearance. The fruit itself will hang in a droopy way on the tree as it ripens. This is true for figs regardless of mature color. Young, firm figs tend to stand out and away from the tree. As it ripens and softens, the fig will bend at the stalk where it is attached to the tree. Go by the size. As the fruit matures on the tree, it will also grow in size*. The mature size depends on the variety you are growing, but the figs will all increase in size as they begin to mature and ripen on the tree. *If the fruit does not grow in size, the tree may be overbearing (consider thinning out some fruit to reduce the load) or it may be lacking sufficient water. It may also be too cold to encourage ripening, especially later in the season and in cool climates.
A ripe fig will be soft to the touch when gently squeezed. Unripe figs are still firm. This is because the ripening process has not yet taken place, and the juices and sugars that are produced as the fruit ripens are not fully present.
Ripe figs are delightfully rich and sweet with a soft, smooth texture when they are fresh from the tree. Unripe figs can be rubbery, dry, and lack sweetness. The most effective way to tell your figs are unripe is to eat one before its peak. Most people only eat an unripe fig once before deciding to wait and allow figs to fully ripen before harvesting.
How to Harvest Figs
When harvesting figs, you will notice that a ripe, fresh fig will come away from the tree with ease. Simply hold the base of the fruit in your hand and lift it up and away from the tree. In some cases, really ripe figs may even drop to the ground from their increased size and weight if not picked first. If the stalk develops a milky white sap once the fig is picked, then the fruit is not yet completely ripe; however, if the fig has a fully ripe color, has grown in size, and is soft to the touch, it may still be sweet and edible despite the appearance of some milky white sap. Our advice here is to try one and see how it tastes. If it is not very sweet or flavorful, try leaving the rest of the ripe figs on the tree another day or so. Note: It is not recommended that you harvest unripe figs and try to ripen them off the tree. While the unripe fruit may soften after a few days at room temperature, it may not be ideal for palatability. However, this may be something to consider in northern areas, where frost or cool temperatures might prevent a later crop of figs from ripening on the tree. Sometimes ripe figs will drip with juice/nectar while still on the tree – this is another sign they are ready to be harvested!
Fig Fruit Facts
It’s important to know that the figs on a fig tree may not all ripen at once. Some fig tree varieties even set more than one crop, commonly called the “breba” (fruit on last year’s growth) and “main crop” (fruit on current year’s growth). In fig trees with more than one crop, like Chicago Hardy and Brown Turkey, the breba crop ripens first, early in the season, followed later by the main crop.
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How to eat figs
If you’re wondering how to eat a fig, you’ve come to the right address. I’m somewhat obsessed with figs, and am known to some of my friends and neighbors as Princess Fig, which obviously gives me the highest fig-titious certification that exists in the fruit universe.
The proper way to eat a fig is to simply reach up and pick one off a tree, twist off the top stem, split the fig gently in half, and enjoy the sweetness. When you’ve had your fill of straight-up figs, collect extras in a bucket and bring them home to make fig jam, fig bruschetta, orange fig and honey galette, or just slice them up and add them to your salad.
But how to spot a ripe fig? Nature has made that easy for you – if it comes off easily with a gentle snap, it’s ripe! But before you get to snapping, look for dark figs with color all around, as opposed to just on one side. Assuming you are picking the darker varieties, the fruit should be almost completely dark in color. Adriatic or kadota figs will be pale to dark green, but upon opening you will see the bright pink-red color and know they’re ready to be enjoyed.
If you absolutely must buy figs at a supermarket, open the container first and take a good whiff – they should smell sweet and fig-like. No scent likely means no taste, and that the figs were picked before they were ripe. Drips of sticky syrup on the outside are also a very good sign.
Supermarkets will have more of a selection of figs than your neighbor’s backyard, so here’s how to know what to buy. Brown turkey figs are one of the most popular figs (and the easiest to grow). They have brownish purple skin, and are a bit milder in flavor and sweetness than black mission figs. Brown turkey figs usually produce two crops during their somewhat long growing season. The first is the brea crop, produced in the spring from last season’s seedlings, and the second one in the fall is the main crop.
Black mission figs are the sweetest of figs, and will often split open near the stem from a sweetness explosion. The green varieties – Adriatic and Kadota – are less sweet, but deserving of the fig title no less with their delicate sweetness, beautiful bright pink interior, and lovely taste.
With all of my fig certification, I am unfortunately not blessed to own my own fig tree. Several years ago, dear friends and neighbors – keenly aware of my fig obsession – planted a beautiful baby fig tree in my yard. I watered that baby and would gaze out the window at its three little leaves, making grand plans for the future. Until the lawn guys accidentally ran over it with their mower. It never grew back, and I am destined to keep roaming the neighbor’s yards searching for ripe figs. The good news? When I bake with said figs, those neighbors get a taste of fresh-baked fig heaven.
What the Fig?
Fig season has come and gone—and come again. Fresh figs appear at the farmers market in early summer, but the trees have a strange cycle of seasonal production. A brief midsummer hiatus leaves many shoppers hanging and hungry for more of the sticky-sweet delicacy.
“The first crop is just long enough to get everybody hooked on them, and then they’re gone,” says Kristie Knoll of Knoll Farms. “People are like, ‘What’s up with that?!’ Sometimes they get mad at us—like we have control over it!”
Breba vs. Main Crops
The first harvest, known as the breba crop (la breva in Spanish), begins in June and lasts through the end of July, when the fruit disappears from the market for several weeks to return in mid-August. Why the gap?
While breba figs grow on the previous year’s wood, the main crop gets its start a little later because it grows on new shoots that sprout after winter pruning. “The breba crop is a finite crop because there are fewer places for figs to happen on last year’s wood,” Knoll explains. The breba wave may be brief, but it is still a force to be reckoned with. One Saturday this June, the Knolls brought a ton of figs (literally) to market.
The second harvest is longer and more prolific, usually running through October or so, depending on whether there’s an Indian summer. Some fig aficionados claim that the main crop is sweeter than the breba, but Knoll thinks both crops are as sweet as can be.
Accidental Organic Fig Farmers
Self-proclaimed “accidental farmers,” Knoll and her husband Rick have been fig farming in Brentwood since 1981, when they planted 600 trees, despite the fact that neither of them had ever eaten a fresh fig. “We had eaten Fig Newtons, and we knew we liked them, so we thought, ‘Hell, let’s plant some figs,’” she says. “It turned out to be one of the best uninformed things that we ever did.”
The fabled fruit has a long history in the warm, dry climates of the Middle East and Mediterranean, where it is still enjoyed widely today. California accounts for the entire fig production of the United States, with most of it concentrated in the Central Valley, but since 95 percent of the fruit is dried or processed, fresh figs are a rare treat outside of summer farmers markets.
Certified organic since 1984, Knoll Farm’s practices go above and beyond the standard certification requirements to incorporate permaculture and biodynamic techniques. And growing figs, particularly organic ones that are picked and sold ripe, is no cakewalk. First, there are pests, such as ants, birds, and squirrels, which all love the sweet crop as much as people do.
Second, figs are not an easy crop to pick. As Knoll puts it, “Eating figs is a lot more fun than picking figs. It’s a hot, nasty job.” All orchard workers must wear gloves, handkerchiefs, and other protective gear. “If your skin gets in contact with the fig leaves, then later on, when you’re sweating, it makes you itch,” she explains. To add another level of challenge, the tree secretes a milky, mildly toxic sap known as “fig latex” when fruit are picked or leaves cut off. The substance is so caustic that it can be used to remove warts.
Ripe figs must be packed and handled carefully to avoid any losses on the road to market. “They’re a difficult crop,” Knoll says. “That’s why a lot of big fig growers pick them way less ripe, which produces a different fig.” Shoppers who haven’t bought fresh figs before are often squeamish about picking the tender, plump ripe ones, so they gravitate toward firmer, less ripe fruit. But unripe figs do not ripen off the tree, and they are generally acrid-tasting. As any fig initiate will tell you, the proof is in a ripe fruit’s delicate flesh and sweet, gooey strawberry-colored center.
Ripe and Ready
Converting people to the pleasures of ripe figs has required a bit of education, Knoll notes. “We try to help people figure out where their palate is on figs,” she says. “Some people like them creamy soft, some people like them a little back from that.” She encourages people to taste different varieties at varying levels of ripeness to figure out where their tastes lie.
The Knolls grow six varieties of fig: the classic Black Mission, the hefty, purplish Brown Turkey, the light green Adriatic and Kadota, the Melissa (resembling a small Brown Turkey), and the “Mystery Fig,” an unknown variety that sprouted up from seed near the farm’s drying racks.
Fresh figs should be refrigerated and stored on their sides on a plate with a paper towel underneath them to soak up any excess moisture. Since the bottom of the fig ripens first, avoid setting them on their butts. Some figs, such as the Adriatics and Kadotas, exude syrup from their bottom end. Knoll says this “honeydew drop” is a telltale sign of ripeness to look for when selecting figs: “I tell people, ‘That’s like the popup button on a turkey—it’s done. Pick that one!’”
Look for Knoll Farms in the back plaza at the Saturday market. You can find a full list of our farms who grow figs here and recipes for cooking with figs here.
Photos courtesy of Knolls Farms. This article was updated from a previously published version.
How to Dry Figs
Drying or dehydrating figs is one way to increase their shelf life so that they are available all the year round and you can add them to your recipes. If you are wondering how to dry fiigs, you will find an answer in this article.
Figs are of great nutritional value since they are loaded with a number of essential vitamins and minerals. They are usually dried to preserve them for a long time. Besides the nutritional value, they are also very taste. They find a place in cakes, cereals, cookies, etc., and your taste buds just can’t seem to get enough of them. In fact, powdered dried figs are also used in milk shakes, so your kids have something healthy to drink.
Drying Figs in the Sun
One of the best ways to dry figs is sun drying, the most natural means of dehydrating any fruit. In case of figs, allow them to ripen completely. Once the ripened fruits fall off, wash them thoroughly. Cut the fruit in half and place them on a rack. Place the rack in the sun. Two days are enough to sun-dry figs. For a faster drying, a wooden platform/slab built over fire is used. The platform (built of the trunk of a betle nut tree), has gaps through which the hot air touches the wooden slab, thereby aiding in drying the figs.
Another way is to take some ventilated boxes and line them with a double-layered cheesecloth. Arrange the cut pieces of figs in a way that they are not touching. Place the entire setup out in the sun, and cover it with tulle netting as a means of pest control. In case the temperature at night does not drop below 20°F, then it is best to keep the rack containing the figs outdoors. Otherwise, figs can be dried indoors as well. Every morning, turn the figs to check for a reduced size, as fruits shrink on drying. So, once they are reduced in size and the skin texture becomes leathery and the inside content is soft, cut them open. In case the inside is a little sticky, then heat these dried fruits in an oven at 110-115ºF for at least 2 hours. Cool them and pack them in air-tight containers or in closed plastic bags and freeze them.
Drying Figs in the Oven
If you are planning to dry figs in an oven, then take at least 1 pound of fresh figs. Preheat the oven to at least 250°F. Wash the figs well and rub off any dirt on it. Now, tie them up in a paper towel or a cloth, and roll them well so that all the wetness gets absorbed in the towel. Cut the figs lengthwise into half and place them in a shallow baking dish with a rim. Make sure that they are not packed very closely together. Now, place the baking dish in the oven and set the timer to 1 hour. Within an hour, the juices will squeeze out of the figs and they will appear purple in color. This can be observed when you check the dish after an hour. After this, remove the dish from the oven and turn the figs over. Place the dish back into the oven and set the timer to 1 hour again. Repeat this procedure in 1 hour time intervals, until all the juice has been squeezed out.
When the figs are darkened and wrinkled completely, reduce the heat to 200°F. Slide the dish back into the oven, and keep checking it every 30 minutes. The figs will solidify further. Switch off the oven and let the figs cool down. Once they are cooled, you will observe that they are dried completely. Store them in air-tight jars and you may use them whenever your taste buds ache for a chewy appetizer or a dessert. It takes about 36 hours through this method to dry figs. To make your dried figs more scrumptious, stuff them with roasted almonds and some goat cheese. Serve with port wine, and you have your perfect evening snack ready! Make sure you store these figs in the refrigerator.
Drying Figs in a Dehydrator
Figs can be dried in a dehydrator too. All you need for this is a large bowl, fresh figs (at least 3 pounds), 1 quart water, paper towels, knife, ascorbic acid (2½ teaspoons), dehydrator, and an air-tight container. Now, mix the water with ascorbic acid in the bowl until the acid dissolves in it completely. The purpose of making this solution is to prevent the figs from browning. Wash the fresh figs with cold water and wipe them dry with paper towels. Slice the figs into ¼ inch pieces, and immerse them into the ascorbic acid solution. Soak for approximately 10 minutes. A dehydrator, as the name suggests, draws out all the moisture from the food. Place these slices in trays and place them in the dehydrator. Dry them for 12-24 hours until the figs are squeezed dry and have a leathery texture. Once they are dried, cool them and pack them in air-tight containers and refrigerate. You can relish them whenever you feel like munching on something sweet and healthy.
One can also dry figs in the microwave, although oven is a better alternative, being fast in drying. Also, if climatic conditions are warm and humid, oven drying is the best option.
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Figs taste as good as it smells. Depending on the variety of fig, the taste can differ. But, the basic taste of all figs is that they are sweet and moist inside. The flesh of the fig is jellylike and pulpy, but not juicy. You can feel the crunch of the small seeds as you eat it.
Mission figs taste sweet, but its sweetness is balanced by the acidic and fruity flavor altogether.
Another type called the calimyrna that is commonly found in Turkey has a nutty flavor.
Figs go bad very fast and will become rancid and taste acidic. It is better to dry and preserve them.
Figs resemble the guava on the side because of the color and the seeds.
Figs are very nutritious fruits and have a high level of natural sugars, soluble fiber, minerals, and essential vitamins. They contain good amounts of potassium, iron, calcium, copper, magnesium, and Vitamins K and A. They are also a rich source of antioxidants.
Fresh figs are most nutritious, and just a 100g serving of fresh figs can give you 1.3g of protein and 2g of fiber. It also contains little amount of calories.
The high fiber content of figs makes them a natural laxative to nourish and clean the intestines. A diet rich in figs will add potassium to the body, which helps in controlling blood pressure.
However, it should be noted that figs contain a high amount of packages, and hence should be consumed moderately.
Fresh Fig: It takes time to get used to the taste
The figs of Athens were so famous that their trade was strictly regulated and anyone who informed against illegal exports was called a sycophant , or fig-informer – originally an approving term, but it became negative since no one likes a sneak!
K.T.Achaya writes that the cultivation of figs in India is not ancient, although the fruit was known, at least by the time of Bindusara, son of Chandragupta Maurya, who wanted to import them from Greece. This is odd because most other members of the Ficus family grow widely in India: the pipal, for example, or our national tree, the banyan.
All these produce fig like fruits, which are often edible, if not too nice – they are used as famine foods, but the fact that they are known as foods is shown by the specific Jain ban against eating figs, and the fruits of four other trees of this family.
This rather surprising proscription may perhaps reflect the figs status as a flower, with its disconcertingly fleshy interior and seeds making it seem too much ‘alive’ . It may also be knowledge of the strange reproductive habits of the original varieties of fig flowers, whose enclosed nature rules out regular insect pollination , so a certain wasp has been co-opted by the plant, to live inside the fruit, and fly out to pollinate other figs.
This is probably why people feel that figs are too full of ‘worms’ , even though modern varieties self-pollinate , so any insects are just drawn by the sweetness of figs, just as they are with other fruits.
Ranjit Singh and S.K.Saxena, in their book on Indian fruits say that after cultivation of figs was started in India, particularly in places like Pune, the imported varieties crossed with native Indian ones, so the fruit here is never quite the same as abroad.
It is true that I have never found figs here as intensely sweet and succulent as some varieties abroad, like the black skinned variety. But the varieties one gets, like the brownish-green striped ones, with their startling pink-purple flesh, or the more sedate greenish-yellow variety can still be nice enough, when just ripe, or even slightly over-ripe .
For all the delicacy of their taste, they can stand up to other strong flavours. In Italy figs are often eaten with strong, salty raw ham, while in Greece slivers of their super-salty feta cheese are inserted into figs for a mind blowing contrast of fruity, sweet, aromatic and salty-rich dairy. Peppery hot arugula leaves and intense walnuts also make an excellent salad with halved fresh figs and a simple vinaigrette dressing.
But perhaps my favourite way of eating them is to cook them very slightly, since heating helps release their perfumes, but never so much as to cause the fruit to collapse; their puree is oddly lacking in character, with dried figs doing better here.
One way is to do it in the oven, by rolling each ripe fig in caster sugar (ideally scented from keeping a few vanilla pods in them) and then putting them in a wellbuttered oven dish. Keep them in a hot oven just long enough for the sugar to caramelise and combine with the butter for a darkly-sweet sauce for the hot figs.
Or you can halve them and heat them with some butter in a pan, never letting them fry, but just heat through, and then sprinkle on some sugar, and serve with cream, or even dahi that’s whipped smooth. There are many ways to tweak these dishes (orange juice or nuts are nice additions ), but they will always be good, since they have at their heart the hot sweet taste of this flower that also happens to be a fruit.
So many luscious words have been written in homage to the fresh fig, with its rich history and symbolic ties to abundance and fertility.
But I much prefer figs dried and shriveled, with their sweet flavor concentrated and their texture slightly chewy.
In local markets, we most often see Mission or Franciscana figs. The colors of the fresh fruit range from deep purple-black outside to red inside, but turn almost jet black throughout when dried. This variety has a coarse texture and sweet, intense flavor.
Less familiar are Calimyrna figs. The fresh fruits are plump with a mild nutty flavor and golden color both inside and out. The dried variety retains many of those qualities, remaining round and full, perfect for filling with sweet or savory concoctions. At Fran’s Chocolates, for instance, chocolatier Fran Bigelow stuffs these figs with rich chocolate ganache, then dips the bottoms into a pool of semisweet chocolate that hardens to a crackling shell.
Unopened dried figs should be stored in a cool, dry spot in a tightly closed container. Often the natural fruit sugar in dried figs will crystallize on the surface of the fruit if stored for several months, but they’re still perfectly safe to eat. Once the package is opened, the fruit should be transferred to a tightly closed container and refrigerated up to 6 months.
Before eating or cooking with dried figs, cut off the tough little stems at the top. Because of their intense flavor, the fruit complements and enhances other strong flavors. A simple compote of poached fruit is just one example of how dried figs meld with other ingredients.
Bring ¾ cup each water and red wine, and ¼ cup sugar to a boil in a saucepan. Add 4 ounces dried figs, 3 ounces dried apricots and 1 ounce dried cherries, along with 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 star anise and 4 cloves. Bring back to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer 10 to 15 minutes, just until the fruit has softened. Cool in the syrup, then serve warm or cold with cream or vanilla ice cream.
Experiment with substituting figs in recipes calling for dried apricots. Chutneys or sweet breads are a good place to begin. On a cheese plate, pair figs with hearty blues and goat cheeses, bries and buttery triple-crèmes such as Saint Andre.
Dried figs really shine in braised pork and chicken dishes. Not only does their sweet, earthy flavor enhance those ingredients, the figs also melt and thicken the juices of the braise.
According to the USDA, a serving size of three dried figs has 130 calories, and they are a wonderful source of dietary fiber (6g), as well as low in fat (0.5g) and sodium (5mg).
CeCe Sullivan: [email protected]