Figs are the fruit of a ficus tree.

If you ever have a chance to pick a fresh fig off of a tree and bite into it, you will know why this fruit is considered a creation sent from heaven. Sure, the Fig Newtons you grew up give you a taste of figs, but there is no comparison. Figs are fun, full of health benefits and great additions to your kitchen repertoire. Let's take a closer look at these super sweet old world fruits.

Figs are in season between June and September and most of the figs in the US come from California. There are some European varieties that stay fresh well into November and even the beginning of December. Figs generally have a sweet taste with an almost-silky texture. Their skin is smooth and the little seeds contained within are edible and crunchy.

Fig love from the beginning of time

Figs go back to the earliest of times with mentions in many ancient writings, including the Bible. They are believed to have been first cultivated in Egypt and from there, spread to ancient Crete and then subsequently, to ancient Greece, where they became a staple in the diet. In the late 19th century figs came to the US when Spanish missionaries planted fig trees in California. It wasn't until the 20th century that further development and cross-cultivation made California one of the largest producers of figs. Since then, California figs are shipped all over the world and have become a suitable substitute for the European figs.

Figs grow on the ficus tree. It is a member of the Mulberry family. Figs have a unique opening, called the ostiole, or "eye," which is not connected to the tree, but helps the fruit's development by giving it an opening to allow communication with the environment. Going back in time, it is believed that Plato thought the fig was the best nutritional food for athletes. According to legend, it appears that it was against the law to export figs because they wanted to make sure they had the advantage at the Olympic Games.

Preparation and cooking

Figs are available fresh, dried, candied or canned in syrup or water. There is also fig concentrate, a sweet syrup that can be poured over ice cream or used to flavor cakes. Fresh figs do not last long; eat on the day or purchase or store for up to three days in the fridge.

It is important to wash figs under cool water to make sure you remove any dirt or pesticides, then gently remove the stem. Once you have cleaned the fig, it is time to enjoy either as a raw fruit or stuffed with whatever your imagination desires. Dried figs can simply be eaten, used in a recipe, or simmered for several minutes in water, fruit juice, or wine to make them plump and juicy. Use poached figs in a variety of desserts, perhaps with frozen yogurt or ice cream. Finding ways to incorporate figs into your foods is easy, deciding which dish is your new favorite is probably the hardest decision you will have to make this week.

  • Use fresh figs in any recipe suitable for soft flesh, ripe fruit such as apricots, peaches or pears. Equally, substitute 1 cup chopped fresh figs with the same amount of chopped soft fleshed and ripe fruit.
  • Use dried figs in place of dried dates, pitted, dried apricots, pitted prunes or raisins. Along the same line, substitute 1 cup chopped dried figs with 1 cup chopped dried apricots, pitted dried dates, pitted prunes or raisins, if you don't have them.

Figs will soon become your new go-to sweet treat as 55% of the fruit is sugar. This heavenly fruit will win you over at the first bite. Give this a try and see what you can do to discover this sweet pleasure.

A fig is not one fruit but actually hundreds. Each seed inside is a tiny fruit.

1 lb fresh figs, 9 or 10, will yield about 2 1/2 cups chopped fruit.

1 lb dried figs, 35 to 40, will yield about 3 cups chopped fruit.

Nutritional value

Figs have amazing health benefits. For starters, they help lower blood pressure because of their high amounts of potassium. Many diets are too high in sodium and not enough potassium, which increase hypertension. Figs help combat this problem. Figs can also help you lose weight because of the high fiber content. Figs are also very high in calcium, so if you're lactose intolerant, you might want to consider figs as your source of calcium. Figs are also a good source of iron and phosphorus.

ficus carica (moraceae)

Adriatic with green skin, white flesh.

Brown Turkey with brown to purple skin and pear shape.

Calimyrna or Smyrna with green skin, white flesh and large size.

Celeste with purple skin and pink flesh, pear shape, medium size.

The small Kadota with thick yellow-green skin.

Magnolia or Brunswick with pink to yellow flesh, amber skin and large size.

Mission figs with tiny seeds.

Close up of halved fig.