Figs are a fruit with a long-storied past. The fig tree makes several appearances throughout the Bible and figs were held in high regard by rulers throughout the Middle East and Europe for thousands of years. Thankfully today, we can all enjoy the benefits of figs—year round.
Figs are a fruit produced by the ficus tree, a member of the mulberry family. The fig’s botanical name, F. carica, is the term used by scientists when researching the benefits of figs, which you’ll discover in a moment. The fig tree is native to parts of the Middle East and the Mediterranean, where its history can be traced back thousands of years. The fig in some areas of the world is also known as anjeer.
Fig trees thrive in warm and dry climates, but some species have been tempered to grow in unlikely areas of the United States, including the Pacific Northwest. The prime season for figs is summer through autumn, depending on the type of fig. Fresh figs are very delicate and susceptible to bruising with mishandling.
Figs are quite perishable and should be consumed within a couple of days of purchase. To select the perfect fig, look for plump and tender fruits free from bruises and other discolorations. A ripe fig should have a nearly intoxicating sweet fragrance and be slightly firm to the touch—not mushy. When you bring fresh figs home, do not wash them until they are ready to eat. If they need to ripen a bit more, leave them on the kitchen counter to mature and then promptly refrigerate (or eat!).
Because figs can perish quickly and due to their delicate nature, figs are dried for preservation. Dried figs are available year round, and they can last several months after purchasing when kept in a cool, dark place, or stashed in the refrigerator. The nutritional value of figs by weight increases when they have been dried. Read labels carefully as figs contain significant amounts of sugar.
According to Gardening Know How, there are over 700 named fig tree varieties that produce figs of all sizes, shapes, and colors. Here are the figs most commonly found in the United States in grocery stores and farmers markets.
Black Mission figs originated off the coast of Spain and are believed to have been brought to California by Catholic missionaries. Black Mission figs are small, with a bright pink flesh studded with crunchy seeds, surrounded by a sweet and dense flesh that is often sticky. This type of fig is routinely dried, making them even more sweet, sticky, and gummy.
Adriatic figs are sometimes referred to as “Candy Stripe figs” because of their pale green or yellow exterior that hides a bright pink flesh. Adriatic figs are super sweet, even when compared to other fig varieties. They partner well with a dollop of mascarpone cheese or Greek yogurt and a scatter of toasted almonds.
Brown Turkish figs have an elongated pear-shape with a caramel-brown skin. This type of fig has been popular since the 1700s in many parts of Europe. Brown Turkish fig benefits are similar to those of Mission figs, but Turkish figs have an incredibly thin and tender skin that bruises easily. Harvesting this type of fig too early, results in a dull flavor and tough texture. When correctly picked and handled, Brown Turkish figs are heavy for their size, juicy, and sweet. Enjoy them in any salad or salsa!
Sierra figs are a new variety, created by the University of California. This breed of fig was designed to thrive in the Central Valley of California. The tree produces a mildly flavored fig with a soft, creamy interior.
Calimyrna figs are the original Turkish figs. Calimyrnas are large figs that literally burst open when ripe to release sugar and sap. The Calimyrna figs have a unique flavor that some describe as a combination of butterscotch, honey, and fruit jam. When ripe, they are amazing lightly grilled and served with a spoonful of yogurt or mascarpone cheese. Calimyrna figs have a very short shelf life, and they are most often found in the United States dried, not fresh.
Kadota figs are the most common green-skinned fig on the planet. This fig variety is thousands of years old and is believed to have originated in Dotatto, Italy. This is not the sweetest fig on this list by a long shot. Kadota figs flavor intensifies when cooked or heated through, which is why this type is used for fig jam and preserves.
King figs are cold-tolerant and thrive in the Pacific Northwest. This fig is green-skinned with a dark purple flesh that is sweet and succulent. King figs aren’t a grocery store staple, but they can often be found during autumn at farmers markets on the West Coast.
Are figs good for you? Figs are packed with nutrition, but it is important to note that the fig’s nutrition can vary significantly from variety to variety. Some types of figs have more sugars, while others can contain more minerals depending on where they are grown and how ripe they are when harvested. But are figs a superfood? Let’s look at fig nutrition facts below and you be the judge!
|Nutrient||Fresh Fig Nutrition|
1 fig large fig
|Dried Fig Nutrition|
1 cup of figs
|Total Carbohydrates:||12.3 grams, 4% DV||95.2 grams, 32% DV|
|Dietary Fiber:||1.9 grams, 7% DV||14.6 grams, 58% DV|
|Sugars:||10.4 grams||71.4 grams|
|Total Fat:||0.2 grams, 0% DV||1.4 grams, 2% DV|
|Protein:||0.5 grams, 1% DV||4.9 grams, 10% DV|
|Vitamin K:||3.0 micrograms, 4% DV||23.2 micrograms, 29% DV|
|Vitamin B6:||0.1 milligrams, 4% DV||0.2 milligrams, 8% DV|
|Potassium:||149 milligrams, 4% DV||1013 milligrams, 29% DV|
|Manganese:||0.1 milligrams, 4% DV||0.8 milligrams, 38% DV|
|Thiamin:||0.0 milligrams, 3% DV||0.1 milligrams, 8% DV|
|Magnesium:||10.9 milligrams, 3% DV||191 milligrams, 25% DV|
|Calcium:||22.4 micrograms, 2% DV||241 milligrams, 24% DV|
|Copper:||0.0 milligrams, 2% DV||0.4 milligrams, 21% DV|
|Iron:||0.2 milligrams, 1% DV||3.0 milligrams, 17% DV|
|Total Omega-6 fatty acids:||92.2 milligrams||514 milligrams|
The health benefits of figs are all due to fig’s nutrition profile, which shows that they are a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin K, vitamin B6, and minerals that give them the ability to fight diseases, aid in weight loss, and even help stave off osteoporosis.
A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found that F. Carica paste significantly reduces colon transit time and stool type to relieve constipation while nourishing and toning the intestines. Figs contain high levels of oxalates that provide dried figs their laxative effect. If you are on a low-oxalate diet, talk to your physician before adding fresh or dried figs to your diet.
A study published in the Journal of Food and Drug Analysis has identified that F. Carica demonstrates antidiabetic and obesity-fighting agents due to the high concentration of polyphenols and flavonoids. The researchers note that the fig fruit shows much higher activity than fig tree leaves does in regards to regulating blood sugar levels.
A clinical animal study published in the journal Pharmaceutical Biology found that fig fruit extract decreases blood pressure significantly. However, it must be noted in this clinical animal study that extremely high doses of extract were used—far beyond what a human could safely consume in a day. This study highlights the potential of using fig fruit extract in a concentrated form in the future in the treatment of high blood pressure.
Can figs help you lose weight? Yes, when eaten in moderation. Figs are naturally high in dietary fiber—a dieter’s dream. Fiber reduces hunger and cravings and promotes satiety. Figs also contain important probiotics that provide support to existing good bacteria in the gut, improving digestion.
Figs are a good source of both calcium and potassium—two essential minerals for bone health. Potassium is often overlooked for its bone health support, but in reality, potassium plays a vital role. Potassium counteracts the excretion of calcium routinely caused by a high-salt diet, and helps to keep calcium in the bones where it belongs.
Researchers from Sweden have identified that postmenopausal women who eat more dietary fiber have a lower risk of breast cancer. In a study published in the International Journal of Cancer, researchers identify specifically that dietary fiber from fruit and cereals may reduce breast cancer risk by as much as 50% overall for estrogen receptor positive and progesterone receptor positive tumors.
Are you wondering how to eat figs? When ripe, fresh figs can be sliced and tossed into your favorite salad, or used to sweeten up a bowl of Greek yogurt. Dried figs can be nibbled on just like any other dried fruit, but because of their stickiness, dried figs aren’t great when added to trail mixes.
Are you ready to add some fresh figs or dried figs to your diet? Here are our favorite fig recipes.
From the BBC’s Good Food section comes these delightfully sweet, crunchy, and nutrient-rich snacks. Dried figs are the star here, and they are combined with dried apricots, dried cranberries, almonds, sesame seeds, and honey. These fig and almond balls are loaded with potassium and sugar to give you a boost of energy and help you recover after an intense workout.
If you are headed out on a backpacking trip or a long hike, skip the pre-made energy bars and make your own with dates and nuts! Dates give the energy bars their sweetness and chewy texture, and a bunch of potassium to keep your electrolytes in balance. The nuts add crunch, healthy fats, and protein to keep you moving down the path. Mix in nut or seed butter, cacao nibs, or shredded coconut for nutrients and flavor.
Move over avocado toast—there’s a new superfood toast in town! The Kitchn has come up with a fantastic recipe that uses sliced ripe figs, ricotta cheese, whole grain bread, and hazelnuts! The result is creamy, sweet, and delicious.
Most American’s first, and maybe only, taste of figs comes in the form of the favorite cookie—Fig Newtons. This commercial snack is loaded with fillers and preservatives, but The Veg Life has crafted a fig newton made from real foods like orange juice, sugar, natural egg substitute, flour, and, of course, dried figs.
There is some controversy in the vegan world about figs—some people believe figs are not vegan-friendly because they are “full of dead wasps.” The truth is female wasps pollinate figs in some parts of the world, but according to Vegan Life, “commercial fig varieties are grown without wasp pollination.”