By Olivia Hutchinson, R.D.
Figs were one of the first plants cultivated by humankind in the Neolithic era. Although commonly called a fruit, the fig is truly an “infructescence” or “multiple fruit” — a cluster of flowers that each produce a fruit and form into a single mass, much like a pineapple or grapes. Figs have a sweet, berry-like taste and a unique soft and chewy texture. Fresh figs are delicate and difficult to transport, so they are commonly dried to preserve them. During fig season, look for fresh figs that are plump and tender with a ripe fragrance. Enjoy them within a few days of purchase, and, like berries, wait to wash them until you’re ready to eat them.
Both fresh and dried figs have a myriad of health benefits. For example, they are an excellent source of fiber. Adequate dietary fiber is an important part of overall health. It helps maintain cholesterol and blood glucose levels and also promotes a healthy digestive tract. A serving of figs, about 3-5 fresh or ¼ cup dried, provides 5 grams of dietary fiber. For comparison, an apple provides 4 grams of fiber.
Dried figs are also a great source of antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that can help prevent damage to your cells by protecting against free radicals, which can cause oxidative stress when they accumulate. Consuming foods that contain antioxidants regularly may lower your risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease or cancer.
In addition to containing high levels of fiber and antioxidants, dried figs have been found to have higher levels of calcium, potassium, and iron than other dried fruits. The nutrients found in figs are an excellent way to help you meet your daily vitamin and mineral needs.
When purchasing dried figs, be sure to check the nutrition label to ensure that they do not contain added sugar.
How to Enjoy
While figs are not a common ingredient, there are many ways to incorporate them into daily meals. Their mild, sweet flavor pairs well with both sweet and savory foods, giving you plenty of options.
- Chop a few fresh or dried figs and add them to Greek yogurt or oatmeal for a satisfying breakfast that will keep you full throughout the morning.
- For a quick snack, pair fresh figs with a sharp cheese, such as cheddar, or slice and enjoy figs on a piece of toast spread with goat cheese.
- Add fresh or dried figs to a salad to add some texture contrast to crunchy vegetables.
- Enjoy fresh figs with prosciutto, fresh cantaloupe, a little sea salt, and a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or a balsamic reduction.
- Put a few fresh figs in with your next roast to add a subtle sweetness to the dish.
- Create a simple, yet impressive dessert by roasting fresh figs with honey and serving with a scoop of fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.