You Are What You Eat: Figs
Figs are not just a fruit, they are a luxury of nature, an exquisite pleasure that awakens the senses. These unique inverted flowers, called inflorescences, can be found in Greece, Portugal, Turkey, Spain, and California. In this article, we will delve into the world of figs and explore their fascinating history, botany, and pollination process, as well as their nutritional benefits, and how to eat them in the most delicious ways.
Figs have a rich history and have been consumed for thousands of years. They were considered sacred by the ancient Greeks and were believed to be a gift from the gods. In fact, the fig tree was considered a symbol of fertility, and figs were often associated with love and abundance. The Greeks believed that the fruit was so special that they even created laws to protect the fig trees.
The Romans also loved figs and considered them to be a delicacy. They were so highly valued that they would import them from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. The famous Roman philosopher, Pliny the Elder, even wrote about figs in his Naturalis Historia, praising their medicinal properties.
Botany, Pollination & the Wasp
Figs are not just any fruit. They are unique in the way they grow, reproduce, and are pollinated. Each fig contains many tiny flowers that produce the edible seeds that give figs their distinct texture. The blossom is inside the fruit, and the fig tree has no blossoms on its branches.
To pollinate figs, they rely on a very specific type of wasp, known as the fig wasp. There are roughly 900 species of fig and 900 species of fig wasp, and each fig tree has evolved alongside its own species of fig wasp. When a female fig wasp is ready to reproduce, she enters the fig through a small opening called an ostiole. She then deposits her eggs and brings pollen from other figs, fertilizing the fig. Unfortunately, in the process of burrowing into the fig, the wasp loses its antennae and wings, becoming trapped. When the wasps die inside the fig, their bodies are digested for nourishment.
Figs are not only delicious but are also packed with nutrients. They are rich in fiber, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and vitamins B6 and K. The fiber in figs can help regulate digestion, while the potassium can help regulate blood pressure. Figs are also rich in antioxidants, which can help protect against oxidative stress and inflammation.
How to Eat Them & Recipes
Figs are best eaten fresh, and their season is short. However, dried figs are available year-round and can be used in various recipes. When choosing fresh figs, look for ones that are plump, soft to the touch, and have a sweet fragrance.
One of the simplest ways to enjoy figs is to eat them whole, straight off the tree. Another way to eat them is to slice them and serve them with cheese or prosciutto for a delicious appetizer. Figs can also be used in various savory dishes, such as salads, stews, and roasted meats. In sweet dishes, they can be used in tarts, pies, cakes, and jams.
Some of my delicious recipe ideas :
- Straight out of your hand – they are delicious and sweet. Cut them into quarters, eat the skin and all. They are delicious as a snack.
- Roast them – sprinkle them with a little brown sugar give them a more intense and sweeter flavour as they are roasted. This caramelises the sugar, making the complex flavours of a fig more intense. Serve them as a snack with nuts and cheese or roast and serves alongside some salted Carmel or praline ice cream
- Bake them in the oven drizzle with a little honey and top them with a delicious rich or tangy cheese like mascarpone and or goats cheese. Or better yet, fill them with a little goats cheese and wrap them in bacon and roast them. Figs naturally help hold in moisture in baked goods, keeping them fresher.
- Salads are the most obvious place for figs – parma ham, mozzarella, lambs lettuce and balsamic vinegar. Fresh figs can go well with cheese or vinegar, with the sweetness cutting through the latter’s tanginess.
- Dessert – baked in a dessert – a frangipane, a baked polenta and almond cake.
My ultimate favourite – hear me out….. a toasted cinnamon bagel, loaded with creamy ricotta, sweet figs and honey, tangy blackcurrant jam plus a sprinkling and candid pecans.