A Brief History Of Fig – The Benefits Of Adding Fig In Your Diet – Nutritional Benefits of Fig – Fig Effects – Are There Any?
At first, you might mistake it for onion. A closer look and a slice will reveal that this kitchen ingredient is nothing like onion, scent included. In fact, this is called fig and is among the foods you need to include in your diet.
In this article, you will learn about:
• The history of fig
• Nutritional components
• Health benefits
• Side effects, if any
• Proper storage tips to prolong shelf life
• Different ways on how to include this in your diet
Figs, In A Nutshell
Fig or Ficus carica, is a plant of the mulberry (Moraceae) family. Technically, it is a syconium or a mass of inverted flowers. Fig fruits are borne singly or in pairs that are usually above the scars of fallen leaves. The trees also thrive in different soil types.
Fig trees also bear two crops every year – the early season or “breba” wherein fruits are inferior and too acid, and the “main,” which is the actual cultivation.
In terms of physical attributes, fig is a bush or small tree that stands between a meter to 10 to 12 meters. Its leaves are rough, broad, and deciduous that is deeply or nearly entirely lobed.
Apparently, there are three main types of fig:
This type of fig only develops when there are fertile seeds. It has nutty flavor and generally of excellent quality.
- White San Pedro
This is a combination of Smyrna and Common fig on one tree. During the first crop, figs develop without flower pollination. On the second crop, figs in axils of leaves require pollination.
- Common Fig
This is what you often see in the market. Unlike the other types of fig, common figs like Fraga, Dottato, and Brown Turkey do not need pollination and the seeds in the mature fruit are usually hollow.
The flowers were once believed to be incapable of fecundation or fertilization. Eventually, it was proven that all common figs can produce fertile seeds if the flowers are pollinated.
Apart from the different types of fig, this fruit is known for its many names. Oftentimes, when figs are introduced to a particular place, a new term is coined.
Other names of figs include:
• Calimyrna – Smyrna variant in California
• Negro Largo – England
• Kadota – Dottato variant in Italy
• Aubique Noire – France
• Brown Turkey – Hawaii
Did you know that fig is among the earliest trees cultivated? Remnants of figs were found in excavation of Neolithic sites, which traced back to 5,000 years ago. Its cultivation spreads around the Aegean Sea and believed to originate in the Middle East or Western Asia and eventually extended to Turkey and Northern India.
Later on, figs reached the Mediterranean region. Used either fresh or dried, figs were considered “the poor man’s food” because it is widely eaten by people.
During this time, ancient Greeks believed that they received the figs from Caria; hence the name. Spartans also served figs in their public tables. Even Pliny the Elder was aware that there were 29 types of figs.
In Latin myth, figs were considered sacred to Bacchus and often used in religious ceremonies.
By 1525 and 1548, figs were introduced in England. By 1550, it was already in China. In 1560, figs were planted in Mexico. When the San Diego mission was established in 1769, figs were also introduced in California.
Later on, cultivation of figs became popular. Countries like Italy, Turkey, Spain, Greece, and Portugal grow figs commercially.
In Venezuela, fig is considered among the most in-demand fruits. Supply was not enough, prompting the government to launch a program in 1960 that encourages commercial plantings.
Consequently, fresh figs were considered as “highly desirable luxury” in Colombia. The Instituto Colombiano Agropecuario encouraged and established an experimental plantation of figs in 1973. This includes improvement of cultivation methods of figs as well as informing farmers about the cost of production and possible revenue from cultivating figs.
Fig Nutrition Facts
Fig is a favorite among health-conscious individuals because of two things: it is rich in nutrients and it has low calories, which means you don’t have to worry about gaining weight.
In fact, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, 40 grams of fresh fig has the following nutritional benefits:
• Calories – 30
• Carbs – 8 grams
• Fiber – 1 gram
• Total lipid (fat) – 0.12 grams
• Protein – 0.3 grams
• Total sugar – 6.5 grams
• Potassium – 92.8 milligrams
• Calcium – 14 milligrams
• Magnesium – 6.8 milligrams
• Phosphorus – 5.6 milligrams
• Vitamin C – 0.8 milligrams
• Iron – 0.148 milligrams
Fig also contains sodium, Zinc, copper, selenium, and folate. It can also provide B vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, choline, vitamin B-6, and vitamin B-12.
Apart from the fig itself, the oils in it are equally nutritious. Dried seeds have fixed oil, which contains the following:
• Oleic acid
• Linolenic acid
• Palmitic acid
• Arachidic acid
Given the nutritional components, it’s not surprising to know that figs are among the richest fruits you need to include in your diet.
Promotes Better Digestive Health
One of the most popular health benefits of figs is its ability to help against digestive concerns.
For starters, figs are good source of fiber. This means it helps soften and add bulk to the stools, thereby a helpful tool against constipation and a good way to promote digestive health. Aside from this, fiber serves as a prebiotic. This supplies the gut with good source of healthy bacteria.
In a recent study, experts carefully examined the effects of fig on 150 people with irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C). The group was divided into two – the control group and the group who ate 45 grams of dried figs twice a day for four months.
The study revealed that those who ate figs experienced a significant reduction of IBS-C symptoms such as bloating, constipation, pain, and distention. More importantly, they experienced an increase in quality of life and satisfaction when it comes to overall bowel habits.
A similar study published in Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed the same results. Based on the said study, people who took 200 grams of fig fruit paste everyday for eight weeks experienced a decrease in constipation.
Just take it easy on your intake since too much figs could cause diarrhea.
Improves Heart Health
Aside from keeping your digestive system healthy, did you know that figs are also good for the heart?
According to an animal study published in Pharmaceutical Biology, fig extracts helped decrease blood pressure on rats with both normal blood pressure and elevated blood pressure.
Another study published in Phytotherapy Research showed that fig leaf extracts helped improve total cholesterol, good cholesterol, and triglvceride levels.
What about the effects of figs on humans?
The effects of figs on cardiovascular health of humans are still unclear. Experts need to conduct studies to check how effective figs are. Nevertheless, the animal studies show promising results.
Manages Blood Sugar Levels
Did you know that diabetes affects at least 422 million around the world? This is a serious health matter because diabetes could lead to more complications, which could potentially result in death.
What do you do?
A change of lifestyle is a must, which includes watching what you eat. When it comes to food, you might want to include figs in your daily diet.
According to a study Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, 10 people with type 1 diabetes were tasked to drink fig leaf tea in the morning. After one month, the participants decreased their insulin doses by 12 percent.
A more recent study also revealed how effective figs are in managing blood sugar levels. In a study published in the journal Nutrients in 2019, it mentioned how high doses of fig fruit extracts could help lower one’s glycemic index or GI. This follows that it could also have a positive effect on blood sugar levels.
Be careful about the type of figs you will use. Fresh figs are recommended since dried figs tend to be high in sugar content.
Promotes Healthy Skin
There are tons of creams and medications that aim to address various skin conditions. Although effective, these creams could contain harmful ingredients that are unknown to consumers.
This is where figs come in. Fig is helpful in keeping your skin healthy. Consequently, it is a natural way to address allergic dermatitis or dry, itchy skin resulting from allergies.
In a study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, experts found out that a cream made of fig fruit extract is effective against dermatitis. A group of children with dermatitis used a cream with fig and applied it on affected areas twice every day for two weeks. Compared to hydrocortisone cream, the natural one was more effective.
Apart from dermatitis, figs could also be helpful against signs of aging. Based on a study published in Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology, combining fig food extract is also a good way reduce wrinkles, provide antioxidants, and decrease collagen breakdown of your skin. This combination includes Ginkgo biloba, Morus alba fruit extract, fig extract, and Punica granatum.
Nevertheless, there is a limitation in the study. Experts were not able to identify whether these effects were because of fig extracts or of some other herbs in the mixture.
Has Potential Anti-Cancer Properties
Cancer is among the leading causes of death in the world. According to the National Cancer Institute, 163.5 per 100,000 men and women die of cancer in America.
This is a serious health concern.
Thankfully, figs are promising and believed to have anticancer properties.
Fig leaves and the natural latex from the fig plants exhibited anti-tumor activity against the following types of cancer:
• Colorectal cancer
• Breast cancer
• HPV-related cervical cancer
• Liver cancer
Keep in mind that at this point, experts are not yet recommending fig supplementation for patients with cancer. Further studies are needed to check how effective this ingredient in reducing the symptoms of respective cancer types as well as whether or not it is the cure against cancer.
Helps Against Erectile Dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction or ED is a condition characterized by inability to maintain a firm erection, which is sufficient to sustain and satisfy sexual activities. Age is a risk factor, which mean as you get older, the risk of developing ED is higher.
Did you know that figs are helpful against ED?
According to a study, experts tested the aphrodisiac capabilities of figs, Chinese cinnamon, and earth smoke on rats. Rats who received the mixture of these three ingredients showed an increase in sexual activity compared to placebo.
At this point, experts are unsure as to whether or not figs caused the changes in sexual activity. It was also difficult for them to check which among the plants were responsible.
Further, experts have not yet tested the aphrodisiac effects of figs on humans as well. More studies are required to check the positive effects against erectile dysfunction, too.
Nonetheless, it won’t hurt if you add figs in your daily diet.
Figs Side Effects
Just like any other kitchen ingredients, regardless of its “natural” nature, extra care is still recommended.
First, you need to be careful on what type of figs you’ll eat. Fresh figs could be a great snack or an addition to your meal, especially if you’re counting calories.
On the other hand, take it easy on dried figs. When fruits are dried, sugar becomes concentrated. This follows that dried figs are high in sugar and calories, which is not ideal if you want to be mindful on your sugar intake.
Aside from this, figs are rich in vitamin K, a nutrient that is crucial in blood clotting, and bone and heart health. Unfortunately, too many figs is not recommended, especially if you are taking blood thinning medications.
According to a study published in Blood Reviews, food rich in vitamin K could interfere with the medication. This could make blood-thinning medications less effective.
Figs may also cause diarrhea and other digestive problems based on a recent study published in Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Figs are effective in addressing constipation because it reduces colon transit time and improves stool type. Unfortunately, eating too many figs could lead to digestive concerns.
Allergy could also be a side effect. If you are allergic to birch pollen, then there is a possibility that you might be allergic to fig. This is because fig trees contain natural latex or Bet v 1 allergen, which others may be allergic to. This could also cause irritation if not removed promptly.
In other words, figs are generally safe, especially when consumed in moderation. Take note of these possible side effects and if you notice adverse changes after eating figs, then don’t eat them anymore.
Storage is crucial especially when it comes to fresh fruits like fig. Unfortunately, figs have shorter shelf life or must be consumed within three days from purchase. In fact, if you want to enjoy figs in its best state, then you must eat them fresh.
Figs are approximately 80 percent water, thereby making this fruit easily perishable. This is also why don’t be surprised to see and feel if the fruit became mushy or the juices are leaking off the skin.
That being said, how can you extend its shelf life?
Here are some things to remember:
• Put the figs in a shallow bowl.
• Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
• Place the bowl of figs inside the refrigerator.
If you prefer longer shelf life, then here’s what you need to do:
• Put the figs in an airtight bag or container.
• Place them in the freezer. This could last you 10 months to one year.
Because of the shorter life span, canned figs are becoming an option. It can be easily found in the supermarket and could last up to one year.
For opened cans of dried figs, make sure you transfer the contents in a covered container and place it inside the refrigerator. Just make sure you will eat it within a week from the time you opened it.
What about dried figs?
It could last for one month, especially if unopened. To extend its shelf life, don’t forget to put dried figs inside the refrigerator. Put the remaining contents inside a sealable plastic bag if the bag o dried figs is opened already. You can store this for six months to a year.
Figs Recipe / Usage
There are many ways on how you can use and incorporate figs in your daily meals. After all, it is a versatile fruit that you can use from baked goods to savory dishes.
You can try the following dishes:
• In a bowl, combine sliced three pounds of figs, two cups granulated sugar, and one lemon. Make sure to get the juices and grate the skin for lemon zest.
• Let it simmer over low heat for one hour. Stir constantly to make sure that the ingredients are evenly distributed.
• Check the consistency. You should be able to achieve a gel-like texture.
• Let the jam cool before placing it in a glass jar.
• Cut the figs into small pieces.
• Then, add a spoonful of olive oil and balsamic vinegar to season figs.
• Place it on top of toasted baguettes.
• Sprinkle ricotta cheese, goat’s cheese, brie, or mascarpone on top before serving.
• Wrap each fig with bacon strips. Be generous on your strips since this is like a match made in heaven.
• Use toothpick to keep all bacon strips intact while cooking.
• Then, fry on the stove top or cook under the broiler.
• In a bowl, mix figs, honey, and butter.
• Cook until the figs are soft.
• Serve with ice cream on top.
If you prefer to keep it simple, then you can eat figs as is, with or without peeling. The entire fig is edible, including the stem. You can add cream and sugar if you prefer the sweeter side. Just make sure to wash them first before eating.
You can also experiment in the kitchen. Figs are best paired with salty flavors like cheese and prosciutto as well as creamy rich foods such as mascarpone and crème fraiche. You can also eat figs together with citrus fruits to balance the flavor of each.
Fig leaves are also useful where you could make fresh tea out of them. Simply boil the leaves to extract its juices and flavor. You can add a slice of lemon for citrus flavor.
More than filling your tummy, figs are also helpful in the kitchen. In fact, you can use it as:
• Meat tenderizer, thanks to its protein-digesting enzymes that help break down meat’s muscle and connective tissues
• Substitute for fat when baking
• Flavor enhancer
• Hold moisture when used in baked goods
What does this tell you? You can use figs in almost anything at anytime.
All the dishes mentioned above were delicious and easy to make. What if you ran out of figs?
Whether fresh or dried, here are your alternatives:
• Fresh pears, which you might want to mix with gorgonzola
• Fresh nectarines
• Dates, although this is the best substitute if the recipe calls for dried figs
• Pitted prunes as an alternative for dried figs
• Apricots, both dried or fresh
You can use equal amounts of any of these fig alternatives as a replacement. However, you may add a few more if you want more flavor to your dish.
The Bottom Line
One thing is for sure: figs are among the healthiest foods you can include in your diet. With more than 500 varieties, figs still share the same nutritional components that ensure that you get to enjoy its many health benefits.
Still, take it easy on your intake. Moderation is key because no matter how healthy figs are, it could lead to adverse effects if you consume too many. Don’t forget to consult with your doctor for your intention to eat figs if you are taking blood thinning medications.
Overall, figs, whether fresh or dried, are great addition to your daily diet.