- Figuring in the Bible
- Figs in history
- Figs and fitness
- Popular with the Romans
- Figs arrive in Europe
- Mission figs
- Appearance in the UK
- Fig trees
- Fig wasp
- Short shelf life
- Fig puree
- US fig varieties
- West is best
- Fig Newtons
- Versatile food
- Full of goodness
- Calcium boost
- Rich in minerals
- Low in calories
- Antioxidant properties
- Fig jam
- Harvesting figs
- Fig production
- “Syrup of fig”
The humble fig is very likely one of the first plants cultivated by humans. Indeed, evidence of this soft, teardrop-shaped tree fruit dates back to the Neolithic period. Later, the Greeks and Romans feasted on them. Today, the fig is one of the most popular foods in the world, relished for its sweetness and health benefits. But how much do you really know about this fancy fruit?
Click through and savor these fun facts about figs.
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The common fig is indigenous to an area extending from Asiatic Turkey to northern India. Figs are very likely the first fruit to be cultivated by humans.
Figuring in the Bible
The fig tree appears repeatedly in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Famously, Adam and Eve used fig leaves to hide their modesty—which has led some scholars to speculate that figs, not apples, may have been grown in the Garden of Eden.
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Figs in history
Figs were widespread in antiquity, cultivated in ancient Egypt and ancient Greece. They were also a common food source for the Romans. Pictured is a fragment of an Egyptian wall painting dating back to c. 1350 BCE depicting a garden pool surrounded by various foliage, including fig trees.
Figs and fitness
Ancient Olympians consumed figs as part of their diet while training. They subsequently earned plates of the fruit for their athletic prowess.
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Popular with the Romans
Roman author and naturalist Pliny the Elder extolled the virtues of the fig, noting its restorative powers and writing that many, including slaves, were fed the fruit on a regular basis. The pictured mosaic features fig trees and birds.
Figs hold a significant position of symbolism in many world religions, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and Buddhism, representing fertility, peace, and prosperity.
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Figs arrive in Europe
When the Moors invaded Al-Andalus—the Iberian Peninsula—in 711 CE, they brought with them figs, together with oranges, almonds, and other exotic foodstuffs from North Africa.
It was Spanish missionaries who introduced the fig to the United States, this in California in 1769. They cultivated what’s known as the Black Mission fig, a variety still popular today.
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Appearance in the UK
The first fig trees to appear in England were those introduced by Cardinal Reginald Pole to Lambeth Palace in the 16th century.
There are over 700 types of fig trees, but only a few of them produce the type of fig that we consume.
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The deciduous fig tree can live as long as 100 years and grow to 15 m (50 ft) in height.
Technically, a fig is not a fruit. Instead it’s a syconium—an inverted flower that blooms inside a pod.
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All fig trees are pollinated by very small wasps of the family Agaonidae.
Short shelf life
Fresh figs will spoil within seven to 10 days of harvesting. In fact, the shelf life of fresh figs is two to three days if kept in room temperature and out of the sun. If you want the figs to last longer, you can either refrigerate them or put them in cold storage.
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Figs keep baked goods fresh by naturally holding in moisture. A fig puree effectively replaces up to half the fat in a recipe, and most, if not all, the sugar.
US fig varieties
While there are hundreds of varieties of figs out there, consumers in the United States can most easily find Black Mission, Brown Turkey, Kadota, and Calimyrna figs.
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West is best
In America, California and Texas produce most of the country’s commercial crop.
These cookies made their debut in 1891, invented by Ohio food maker Charles Roser (1864–1937).
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Figs can be eaten fresh or dried. They are also sold canned or frozen. Note that dried figs are high in sugar and calories.
Full of goodness
Figs have a variety of potential health benefits. They are high in soluble fiber, and so serve to improve digestion and decrease constipation. Figs also help to manage blood sugar levels.
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A half cup of figs packs as much calcium as half a cup of milk.
Rich in minerals
Figs are packed with minerals, including potassium, magnesium, riboflavin, and calcium. The fruit also contains plenty of vitamins, for example vitamin B6 and vitamin K.
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Low in calories
While they contain some calories from natural sugar, adding a few figs to your diet is a great low-calorie snack option or addition to a meal.
Figs, especially ripe ones, are rich in protective plant compounds called polyphenols. These compounds have protective antioxidant properties, substances that may protect your cells against harmful free radicals.
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Homemade fig jam should be prepared using bottled lemon juice. Doing this lowers the pH value of the jam, thus helping the fruit’s ability to gel.
Figs flourish in hot, dry climates, and the fruit requires the full sun to ripen. In fact, figs are harvested according to nature’s clock, fully ripened and partially dried on the tree.
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Worldwide, over one million tonnes of figs is produced annually. Turkey is the largest fig producer in the world, followed by Egypt. Algeria takes third place. The United States is seventh on the table.
The United Kingdom doesn’t produce figs. But the word “fig” was first recorded in England in the 13th century, derived from the Old French figue.
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“Syrup of fig”
In British Cockney rhyming slang, when you’re talking about a “syrup of fig,” you’re referring to a “wig.” The more you know!
Sources: (Britannica) (Planet Fig) (U.S. Forest Service) (UC Davis) (Medical News Today) (Epicurious) (Atlas Big)
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