Facts on Figs
Name a fruit. Any fruit. You probably said apple, or banana, or strawberry. Did anyone think of fig? (The title of the article probably helped.) The fig is one of the oldest and most renown fruits the world over. I have to admit that I never would have mentioned it. Growing up, I only knew of fig from the Fig Newton’s that my father was always eating. They didn’t grow around my home and was never part of our diet. Boy, did I miss out.
The fig has been around since the beginning of time. No kidding. It was the chosen tree (or shrub) that God used to hide Adam and Eve’s nakedness in the Garden of Eden. You can’t get much older than that.
The origins of the fig tree can be traced back to Western Asia with archeological evidence from as far back as 5,000 B.C. The fig quickly became a stable food source for much of the world. The Greeks held it in high honor. The Romans used it in their décor. References to its uses have been found in many of the ancient writings. In fact, it has appeared throughout recorded history with emphasis in Egypt and Greece. The oldest known living tree can be found in present day Lima, Peru. It has been dated as far back as 1538. I think that it is safe to say that the life expectancy is actually unknown.
The fig tree flourishes in the Mediterranean areas and in dry climates. Due to various diseases that can attack it, you will not generally see the fig in tropical regions. If there is too much rain, the fruit will split before harvesting and be lost. In the Americas you will find the largest fig producing areas in California and Texas where the conditions are much more suitable. The American figs were brought over by the Spanish missionaries in the 1600’s which gives the most common of figs found there the name Mission Figs.
Heights can be reached up to 50 feet, but the average fig tree that you will see is around 15 feet high. It has a tendency to reach its twisting branches much further out that it reaches up, and its roots like to wander far and wide. Therefore, small spaces are not conducive to successfully growing fig trees. The trunk of the fig tree is very unusual and gives it an exotic look, but that is about as far as the use of it goes. The wood is very weak and breaks easily. The trunk will have “tumors” or knobs on it from branches that have broken off which adds to the twisted look.
A surprise to most people is that the fig is not actually a fruit. It is more of a flower. Technically it is called a syconium. The part that we call the fruit is an inverted flower with multiple “flowers” inside that we call the seeds. Pollination occurs through a small opening in the flower/fruit that is mainly done by ants that cannot resist the sweet goodness. It is the pollinated seeds that give the fig the nutty flavor that is so well known. Mature fruits are soft and tend to bend at the tree connection when ready for harvesting. Full ripeness (actually almost too ripe) occurs when the fruit cracks and exposes its fleshy pulp.
Fresh figs are not ones to be picked early and allowed to ripen in transit to stores. They do not ripen at all if not still on the tree. That is way to find fresh figs in the store is rare. In fact, you will generally only find them in areas where the fruit is grown since they do not last more than a couple of days before rotting. That is way the average person sees figs dried. They last for months and are great to use in baking and just as a snack.
I’ve come to appreciate the fig. They happen to be a food lover’s paradise. They are extremely healthy due to being high in fiber and contain more minerals than other fruits. They contain no fat, no cholesterol, and no sodium. And despite all that they taste delicious! Since ancient Greece the health benefits of the fig have been lauded. It has been documented that figs were given to the Olympic athletes as energy boosters and were seen as symbols of fertility.
As with most fruits there are several medicinal qualities that have been reported over the centuries. As mentioned above, the Greeks proclaimed its energy provisions. Each culture mentions the soothing attributes for the sufferers of constipation. The dried fruit is boiled and steeped. Then it is drunk. Chest congestion can be relieved by preparing the fruit in a similar fashion using milk instead of milk. Consumption also aids in urinary conditions and for health in childbirth.
The fig is a fruit that has withstood the test of time. Its sweetness and delicious flavor can be used in main dishes, deserts, and in salads. The next time you see figs, try a few and enjoy the delightful taste. You won’t regret it.
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