Figs have a peculiar bell shape, with a wide bottom that narrows to a point. Figs come in various sizes and colours. They can be brown, purple, green, yellow or black. The skin has a slightly wrinkled and leathery appearance. The fruit is highly perishable and is usually dried for preservation.
Ficus carica, which we know as the common fig, originated in northern Asia and was brought to America by teh Spaniards.
There is a school of thought that believes that the forbidden fruit entned in the Bible was probably a fig rather than an apple. Sumerian stone tablets, which date back to 2500BC mention the use of figs.
Cooked figs are used as sweeteners in parts of north Africa and the Middle East.
Figs are very beneficial to health because they contain calcium, iron, phosphorus and potassium. They have a much higher mineral content than most fruits. In additon, they are fat-free, sodium-free and cholesterol-free. Potassium is beneficial to health in that it helps to control blood pressure. A low intake of potassium-rich foods can lead to hypertension.
Figs also have much more fibre than any other fruit. Foods rich in fibre protect prevent the occurence of cancer of the colon and also help keep blood pressure low.People around the world whose diet is typically rich in dietary fibre seldom suffer from diseases like cancer and heart disease. Moreover, fibre and fibre-rich foods may have a positive effect on weight management. In one study, women who increased their fibre intake with supplements, significantly decreased their energy intake, yet their hunger and satiety scores did not change. Therefore, figs like other high fibre foods, may be helpful in a weight management programme. Figs also have mild laxative properties.
Figs are an excellent source of calcium and help promote bone density. The potassium in figs helps to counteract the urinary calcium loss sometimes caused by diets that are high in salts.
Studies have shown that fig leaves may even inhibit the growth of certain types of cancer cells. Certain test conducted in Japan show that the extract of figs, benzaidehyde, helps shrink tumors in humans.
Figs contain good amounts of oxalates. When oxalates become too concentrated in the body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems. People with kidney or gall bladder problems would be wise to avoid eating figs. Figs can also trigger headaches in some people.
Figs must be picked ripe from trees because they do not ripen well once they have been picked from the tree. They have a very short shelf life and must be consumed as soon as possible. The harvest season for figs is from mid-June to mid-October.
When buying figs look for clean and dry figs with smooth skin. The fruit should yield to the touch but should not be mushy.Smell the fruit. If it has a slightly sour smell it is already overripe and has begun to ferment. Overripe figs begin to lose shape when they are past their prime.
Keep ripe figs in the refrigerator. They will keep for about two days. They should be placed on a shallow tray as they bruise easily. It is best to keep them covered to prevent them from drying up or picking up odours. Figs can be frozen whole, sliced or peeled in a sealed container for 10 to 12 months.
Dried figs can be stored in a sealed package at room temperature for a month. If they are to be stored for a longer period, it is best to store them in the refrigerator in a air-tight plastic container. They will stay for upto a year. Opened dried figs should be transferred to a sealable plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator.
- Ham and cheese go particularly well with figs.
- Figs make an excellent meat tenderiser.
- Dried figs can be used in recipes in place of dried apricots and dates.
- To make it easier to chop figs with knife , dip the scissors into warm water occasionally to prevent sticking.
- When chopping in a food processor, add some sugar
- If dried figs are too dry, they can be soaked, steamed or poached to restore their moisture.
- Popping dried figs that are stuck to each other into the microwave for 15 seconds will separate them.
Quick Serving Ideas
- Add some dried or fresh figs to cereal or oatmeal.
- Serve figs poached in juice or red wine and serve with yogurt or icecream.
- Add figs to salads.
- Serve fresh figs stuffed with cheese and almonds can be served as an appetiser or after dessert.
References and Useful Websites