Figs grow on the Ficus carica tree or bush, a member of the mulberry family. With more than 700 named varieties out there, they can range widely in color and sometimes texture. Once picked, the ripe fruit doesn’t keep well for long, so most commercial production is in dried and otherwise processed forms (Fig Newtons, anyone?)
Figs, rich in natural sugar, are a great source of dietary fiber and a good source of some essential minerals, including magnesium, manganese, calcium, copper and potassium, as well as vitamins, especially B6 and K. The nutritional value actually increases when figs are dried, says whfoods.com (World’s Healthiest Foods). A half-cup of fresh figs provides as much calcium as a half-cup of milk, but a single dried fig contains almost as much calcium as an egg. Fresh or dried, figs contain powerful antioxidants that neutralize free radicals in the body and fight disease.
Figs can be used for baking in savory and sweet recipes, and in salads, too. A few suggestions found online include adding quartered figs to a salad of fennel, arugula and shaved Parmesan cheese. Or when preparing oatmeal or other whole grain breakfast porridges, add a few dried or fresh figs. Poach figs in juice or red wine and serve with your next frozen dessert or yogurt. Fresh figs stuffed with goat cheese and chopped almonds can be served as hor d’oeuvres or desserts.
Fresh figs and a touch of lemon juice make up an elegant fig sorbet, recipe included today. Make sure to leave some of the crunchy fig seeds intact for the best texture.
“Figs are really popular in fig preserves, and some people just like to get them to eat (fresh),” says grower Phil Lancaster of Hamilton. It takes about three years for fig trees or bushes to start really bearing, he adds. “As they get older, they get bigger and bigger and make more and more — unless the birds get to them.”