One of my all time favorite fruits is the fig. It’s true, dried figs are available throughout the year, but there is nothing like the lusciously sweet taste and unique texture of fresh figs. I can get dried figs any time I feel the urge, but to find fresh figs is a true treat. So imagine my complete surprise and immense pleasure at finding not just one, but 2 varieties of fresh fig (Black and Green) at Trader Joe’s. I’ve had the pleasure of eating both varieties, but never at the same time. So, I decided to arrange a taste test to identify the differences between these 2 relatively common varieties of fresh fig.
Fig vs. Fig
On the left is a Black or Mission fig, named for the dark purple/black color of its skin when ripe. It has a tear drop shape and when cut open has a pure white flesh that surrounds bright pink seeds. This fig has a consistent texture throughout with a light and refreshing flavor. It is sweet, but not overly so, and is very juicy.
On the right is a Kadota fig recognized by its round shape and green skin. This fig has a firm cream colored flesh with a slightly chewy texture, and pale pink/tan seeds that are comparatively soft. This fig has a much sweeter taste than the Mission fig, reminiscent of the taste of honey.
What’s the Fig Deal?
Fresh figs are one of the most perishable fruits, and are only available (when grown in CA) from June to September. Because of their delicate nature, they do not travel well and are not often seen here on the East coast. But snap them up when you get the chance…here’s why.
Figs are an excellent source of potassium, a mineral that helps to control blood pressure. Many of us may be potassium deficient especially if we do not eat enough fruits and vegetables and eat too many packaged or processed foods which are high in sodium. An inadequate intake of potassium-rich foods, especially when coupled with a high intake of sodium, can lead to hypertension.
Figs are a fruit source of calcium, a mineral that has many functions in addition to promoting bone density. Calcium plays a role in blood clotting, blood pressure regulation, cognitive function, and communication between cells. It also facilitates muscle contraction and allows cells to uptake glucose from the blood.
In addition to their potassium and calcium content, figs are a good source of the mineral manganese. Manganese helps the body form connective tissue, bones, sex hormones, enzymes and the synovial fluid that helps joints move smoothly. It also plays a role in blood clotting, is vital for the proper absorption of calcium, and assists in the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates. In addition, magnesium helps your body utilize thiamin — or vitamin B-1 — and vitamin E. And if that wasn’t enough, manganese is a vital part of the enzyme dismutase, a potent antioxidant that scavenges harmful free radicals and prevents them from causing damage to our DNA and the tissues of our body.
Lastly, figs contain vitamin B6, a vitamin critical to brain and nerve cell function. B6 plays a crucial role in synthesizing the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin which allow nerve cells to communicate in the brain and throughout the body. Vitamin B6 is a critical component of antibody and red cell development. Vitamin B6 is also necessary for proper protein digestion. Therefore, your B6 need increases to more protein you consume.
But, the biggest reason out there to eat your figs? They taste awesome (and is there really a better reason that that?)
Choosing Your Figs
Figs should be purchased only a day or two in advance of when you are planning on eating them. They do not ripen after they’re picked so they must be at their peak when harvested. This makes them particularly fragile and vulnerable to bruises and damage in transit. Look for figs that have a rich, deep color, are plump and tender to the touch, and have a sweet fragrance. They should have firm stems and be free of bruises. They should not smell sour or be mushy, which is an indication that they may be over-ripe or spoiled.
Storing Your Figs
Try to buy figs only a day or two before you plan to eat them. Because they’re fragile, and can easily bruise, handle and store them carefully. They should be kept in the refrigerator either arranged on a paper towel-lined plate or in a shallow container covered or wrapped in order to ensure that they do not dry out, get crushed or pick up odors from neighboring foods. Before eating, rinse them with cool water and gently wipe dry.
What About Dried Figs?
The majority of figs that people eat are dried allowing for a fruit that can be enjoyed throughout the year. The drying process occurs either by exposure to sunlight or through an artificial process where figs are treated with sulfur dioxide or other sulfites to extend their shelf life.
Sulfur-containing compounds act as preservatives to help prevent oxidation and bleaching of colors. The sulfites used to help preserve dried figs and other fruits can cause adverse reactions in an estimated one out of every 100 people and can be particularly acute in people who suffer from asthma.
Foods that are classified as “organic” do not contain sulfites since federal regulations prohibit the use of these preservatives in organically grown or produced foods. But when in doubt, simply turn your package over and read your ingredient list.
Finally, It’s Time to EAT!
I strongly encourage you to try a fig plain. Go ahead…take a bite. Experience the different tastes and textures figs have to offer. But if you must, here are 2 of my most favorite ways to feature a fig. These “recipes” combine salty with sweet and allow both the texture and delicate flavor of the fig to shine through. BTY – these are excellent party finger foods, especially if you want to look all fancy and stuff 🙂
Figs and Goat Cheese
It’s pretty simple – take a bunch of figs, cut them in half and smear each half with a dollop of delicious goat cheese. If figs are slightly under ripe, drizzle with a small amount of raw local honey. Enjoy!
Figs Wrapped in Prosciutto
Cut figs into quarters. Wrap a thin slice of prosciutto around each quarter and secure with a toothpick. Enjoy!