Did you know that figs are a member of the mulberry family and they are quite unique as although figs are considered to be fruit, they are, in actual fact, inverted flowers. Each fruit has an “eye”, also known as the ostiole. It’s through this “eye” that figs are pollinated by insects like fig wasps1.
Figs are traced back to the earliest of times and although figs are one of the most perishable fruits, they dry well and due to the high sugar content, figs make excellent travelling food as it provides high levels of energy. In ancient Egyptian times fresh and dried figs were often the choice item packed for sustenance. The Greeks are probably most famous for using figs in not only culinary but also medical techniques as figs contain high and valuable nutritional value. Apart from vitamin C, beta carotene, B vitamins, calcium, iron and potassium they are rich in dietary fibre which make them an excellent, natural laxative2.
Worldwide figs are consumed throughout various seasons. Here in South Africa we often get imported Turkish Black figs and also small Mediterranean figs. Most old Afrikaans backyards will have a fig tree from which green fig preserve are made every year.
Other than green fig preserve, figs are used in cakes, pastries, fig bars, salads, with red meat, chicken and even fish. Figs are incredibly versatile and adds exceptional flavour to any dish or baked item.
As mentioned previously, figs are highly perishable and should therefore not be purchased too long in advance. When choosing figs at the market or supermarket, look for punnets containing fruit that are bright in colour. Stay away from blemished fruit or punnets containing fig juice – those figs are probably too ripe and well away to being spoiled. Always be on the lookout for firm, plump fruit with sturdy stems. Be wary of a sour smell as this definitely indicates spoiled fruit.
Enjoying figs at home
Always wash all fruit before eating or using them and you can do the same with figs. Sometimes the stems are a little woody and can be trimmed with a paring knife.
The best way to incorporate fresh figs in your cooking at home include adding them to salad with raw nuts and flavoured vinegar. Present them with a drizzle of honey on a cheese board. Poached or grilled figs that can be enjoyed with either breakfast meals or form part of dessert.
Dried figs are one of those ingredients to always have in the pantry. Fig compote can be made with some spices, like cinnamon or star anise to add to porridge. Compote can also be enjoyed with French toast or served with cream based desserts, like panna cotta. Dried figs can be soaked in water, wine or sherry and added to cake batters to add lovely flavour, texture and richness. Further, dried figs can be combined with toasted spicy nuts to enjoy as a snack with drinks.
Green fig preserve is probably mostly served with cheese, but it can also be added to salads, stews and even sandwiches. It pairs well with smoked meats and is quite tasty when sliced thinly and baked on top of kingklip or angelfish.
Remedial properties of figs2
The health benefits of figs are quite exceptional. Figs are high in iron and can be included in the diets of people suffering from iron deficiency. For digestive problems, dried figs can be soaked in water then the water and the softened figs can be consumed to alleviate ailments. Figs are also rich in calcium which is essential for strong nails.
Figs are excellent to include in your diet when detoxing. They cleanse the system and balance the pH levels of the body. Cuts and sores, especially in the mouth, can be treated with a paste made from figs. The milk the seeps from unripe figs
are high in anti viral properties and can be used to treat warts.
Tea made from boiling figs in water for a few minutes can be consumed throughout the day to soothe wet coughs, a sore throat and asthma. The same tea can be gargled to treat gingivitis or fresh figs can be rubbed on gums to alleviate toothache. Fig milk, combined with water can be used to treat eye infections.
No home should be without figs, whether fresh, dried or preserved. Make sure you’re stocked up, because apart from adding an exotic touch to a dish, they come in quite handy to treat general ailments.
For an abundance of fig recipes and inspiration on how to incorporate it into your repertoire, follow this link to our recipe section.
1. Wikipedia, n.d., Common fig, viewed on 22 May, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_fig
2. Healthy and Natural World, 9 Ways to Use Figs As a Natural Remedy, viewed on 22 May 2014, from http://www.healthyandnaturalworld.com/9-ways-to-use-figs-as-a-natural-remedy/