Somehow it just doesn’t seem to be enough for figs to be delicious. Despite being highly prized since ancient times, there’s always a debate to be had about figs. Should you eat the skin? Are they vegan? Are they even a fruit?
Enough with this nonsense. Here’s what you need to know about eating figs.
Story of figs
Figs have been beloved since ancient times. Having originated in the Mediterranean and Middle East, they were widely distributed across the empires of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Remains of fig trees have been excavated from Neolithic archaeological sites and the consumption of figs recorded on Sumerian stone tablets. Ancient Olympians were awarded figs for their sporting victories.
Both the Old and New Testaments make repeated references to fig trees, with many biblical scholars interpreting the forbidden fruit picked by Eve to be a fig, not the commonly depicted apple. In Islam, the prophet Mohammad implies that figs are his favourite fruit, saying it’s the one he most wishes to see in paradise. Figs are an important symbol in many other religions too, including Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism, representing everything from fertility to peace to prosperity.
By the Middle Ages, figs were abundant across most of Europe and Asia, from as far afield as Britain to China. Franciscan missionaries brought figs to California from Spain in 1520, beginning the now widespread cultivation of figs in the southern United States.
Not bad for a fruit that isn’tactually a fruit. Figs are, in fact, a flower. But really, you’d have to be quite a bore to start picking people up on that (and we’ll continue to call them a fruit for the duration of this article. It’s just easier that way).
Nutritional values and calories
Whether you’re having them dried or fresh, eating figs is a great way of satisfying your sweet-tooth cravings while benefiting from important vitamins and minerals in a low-calorie package. A medium-sized fig contains just 37 calories and 8 grams of sugar.
Figs are a great source of potassium and calcium, which makes them great for improving bone density and avoiding conditions like osteoporosis later in life. Potassium also helps keep blood pressure in check. Figs are good for your digestion too, as they contain high amounts of fibre.
Additionally, figs are also a good source of iron, magnesium, and vitamins A and C.
Ways of eating figs
So how do you eat figs anyway? Figs are a popular fruit for eating dried, which makes their flavour more intense and the texture chewier. Like many other dried fruits, dried figs are also good for cooking with – especially for baking.
Eating dried figs whole is simple enough – you’ll want to discard the hard stalk (hold it, eat the rest of the fruit off it, and chuck the stalk away), and that’s about all there is to it.
How to eat fresh figs is a different question, but one to which there’s not a single correct answer. If there’s one rule to always follow, again, it’s to discard the stalk. With fresh figs, it’s very easy to just twist the stalk off before tucking into them whole.
The skins of fresh figs are perfectly edible, although not to everyone’s taste, so you may prefer to peel them first. It’s worth noting that early season figs have thin and delicate skins, whereas late season figs have thicker, less palatable ones. These thicker skins are easy to remove with a good quality vegetable peeler, while you might be better off peeling the thinner ones away with your fingers so as not to ruin the delicate fruit inside.
Unlike dried figs, the inside of fresh figs is soft and naturally jam-like. Other ways of getting to the centre while avoiding the skin include cutting your fig in half and eating the centre out with a spoon, or cutting them into wedges and eating them as you would an orange wedge.
Fresh figs pair particularly well with nuts and/or soft goat and sheep cheeses. You can also cook them to make them even more sweet and juicy. This can be particularly desirable with unripe figs. You can bake them whole or halve them and place them on a grill. Both methods will caramelise the figs slightly and make them equally good as a simple dessert topped with crushed nuts and honey or a topping of their own on goat cheese salads and even pizza.
If you’re looking to incorporate more figs into your diet, why not start the day with this fig, watermelon and peach smoothie? All you have to do is blitz the ingredients together in a blender until smooth.
Or make yourself a batch of this rustic fig and pistachio jam for topping your breakfast toast, pancakes or crumpets. Super-easy to make, place all the ingredients in a pan and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Allow to bubble for around 4 minutes for the jam to come together before transferring to sterilised jars.
Figs make an excellent addition to many appetisers and canapés, so next time you’re hosting a dinner, whether a small gathering or large event, try whetting your guests’ appetites with these fig and duck breast kebabs or, alternatively, these parmesan wafers topped with parmesan and figs. Just crisp up grated parmesan in the oven until it’s golden brown to make the wafers then plate up with slices of Parma ham and fig wedges.
If you’re keen to incorporate other soft fruits into your baking, here are a couple of recipes you might like to try: an elegant French classic, apricot clafouti, baked with sweetened dough, or peach crumble, a perfect late summer dessert.
The ideal English muffins are lightly toasted. You can just slice them in half and put them in the toaster, but we prefer the oven-toasting technique. You can also learn how to make English muffins at home before putting them in the oven by following our simple recipe.
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