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Foods

Figs

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Fresh or dried, lusciously sweet figs are a superb source of fiber, thanks to the tiny seeds that fill the fruit. Most of the fiber is insoluble, but about one-fifth is soluble. Other nutritional assets include good amounts of potassium, as well as some manganese, iron and calcium.

One of humankind's oldest fruits, the fig has been cultivated for centuries in warm, semiarid climates. Fresh figs have an incomparable taste, but they also have about the shortest life-span of any fruit on the market: Once harvested, they last only about a week. As a consequence, about 90% of the world's fig harvest is dried. Dried figs are intensely sweet and wonderfully chewy, while fresh figs--a rarer treat--have a more delicate sweetness and the subtle contrast of crunchy seeds and soft, satiny flesh.

Varieties

Today, nearly all domestic figs are produced in California, where they were first introduced by Spaniards in the mid-1700s. The major varieties of fresh figs (which are also sold dried) are Black Mission (black or purple skin and pink flesh) and Kadota (greenish yellow skin and purple flesh). Calimyrna, a large greenish-yellow fig when fresh, is the most popular dried variety. It was developed from the Smyrna fig, a Turkish variety that is commonly imported in its dried state. Brown Turkey (purplish skin and red flesh) is sold fresh, as well as dried. The principal variety used in making fig bars and fig paste is the Adriatic, which has light green skin and pale pink flesh.

Availability

Each of the different fresh varieties is available at a different period, with one harvest of California figs in June and a second, larger crop from August through early September. Dried figs are plentiful year round.

Shopping

A "fancy" produce item, fresh figs are packed carefully and thus should be in good condition when displayed in your market. Color differs with variety, but healthy figs will always have a rich color; ripe Mission figs, for example, will be nearly black. Look for shapely, plump figs with unbruised, unbroken skins and a mild fragrance; a sour smell indicates spoilage. The fruit should be just soft to the touch, but not mushy. If the figs seem somewhat shriveled, as if they are beginning to dry, they will be particularly sweet. Size is not an indicator of quality, but you'll probably want to choose uniformly sized fruits if you are planning to serve them as individual portions for dessert.

When buying packages of dried figs, check for unbroken wrapping; the figs should give slightly when gently squeezed through the package. Watch out for moldy or sour-smelling dried figs. String figs are imported from Greece from October through December. They should be firm and clean.

Storage

To ripen slightly underripe fresh figs, place them on a plate at room temperature, away from sunlight, and turn them frequently. Keep ripe fresh figs in the refrigerator. They bruise easily, so store them in a shallow container that can be covered to keep them from getting crushed; line the container with paper towels. Store the figs for no longer than two to three days.

Dried figs can be stored at cool room temperature or in the refrigerator; just be sure that they are well wrapped after opening so that they do not become too dry and hard. Dried figs should keep for several months. They can also be frozen, then thawed at room temperature.

Preparation

Wash fresh figs and remove the hard portion of the stem end. Halve or quarter the fruit. Thick-skinned Calimyrna figs are usually peeled; Mission figs do not need to be, as they have thin, edible skins.

Placing dried figs in the freezer for an hour will make them easier to cut up. When chopping dried figs, dip the knife into hot water from time to time, to prevent the fruit from sticking to it. Before adding chopped figs to a batter or dough, toss the pieces with a little flour to keep them from sinking to the bottom of the baked goods.

Reconstituting dried figs: If you like dried figs plumped, simmer them in boiling water, wine, or fruit juice for two minutes; add a drop of almond extract to enhance their flavor.

Baking: Fresh figs are usually eaten raw, but they can also be baked and served for dessert. Pierce them a few times with a fork, place them in a baking pan, and sprinkle with fruit juice to keep them moist. Cooking time: about 20 minutes in a 300°F oven.

Nutrition Chart

Fresh Figs/4 medium

148
Total fat (g)
0.6
Saturated fat (g)
0.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.3
Dietary fiber (g)
6.6
0.4
Carbohydrate (g)
38
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
2

Dried Figs/4 medium

194
Total fat (g)
0.9
Saturated fat (g)
0.2
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.2
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.4
Dietary fiber (g)
9.3
2
Carbohydrate (g)
50
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
8
Manganese (mg)
0.3
Potassium (mg)
541


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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