Everything You Need to Know About Figs
Figs originated in Asia Minor and were brought over to America in the 16th century. Figs were historically used to sweeten dishes before refined sugar was an option, and they continue to be used in such a way in many parts of the world today.
While dried figs are available all year around, fresh figs are usually available in the summer and fall. They taste like a mellowed cross between a peach and a strawberry. Their unique texture, and ability to be simultaneously chewy, soft, and crunchy, is what makes fresh figs so appealing and popular.
There are several different varieties of figs. They range in colour from green or greenish-red when ripe, to the deep purple that most people are familiar with.
The most commonly recognized varieties are: Black Mission figs, Brown Turkey figs, Adriatic figs, or Calimyrna figs. Taste-test each of them to determine which type suits your palate best.
How to Select and Store Figs
The best figs should be slightly wrinkled, yet still plump with a little bit of a bend at the stem. Figs that are too hard or too firm indicate that they were picked before they were ripe. Depending on the variety, they should have a deep colouring and a sweet smell to them. Any sour odour means you should put that fig down and exchange it for another.
Figs are very fragile, so look for “perfect” figs that aren’t too squishy, don’t have any splits, milky liquid at the stem, or the obvious: no mold.
Figs are best consumed within a couple days of purchasing. They can be kept in the fridge, unwashed for that time, but make sure to cover any foods that may give off an odour as the figs can absorb that smell from sitting in the fridge like milk.
If you do happen to have some unripe figs, store them at room temperature on the counter and they should soften and get a little sweeter. Note that figs do not ripen after they are picked, so avoid unripe figs if you want to have soft and sweet ones for eating fresh.
How to Prepare Figs
Figs are often made into preserves or dried to take advantage of their delicious flavour. However, fresh figs are delightful eaten out of hand given their soft, sweet flavour and chewy texture.
- Figs can be roasted at 375°F with some red wine or liquor, sugar, and lemon zest, with the cut sides facing up or down in the pan. Cooking them facedown will make them softer, while they’ll be firmer if baked with cut side up. This is a great way to extend the shelf life, and when roasted they’re delicious in the morning with some yogurt, pancakes, or served as a snack with cheese and crackers.
- Preheat your charcoal or propane grill and brush a little olive oil on the figs. Grill until lightly charred. Serve in a salad or on some fresh bread topped with crumbled goat cheese.
- You can make fruit brûlée as well. Halve the figs and sprinkle a little sugar on top (raw, brown, demerara, whichever you choose). Use a brulée torch (or your oven on broil, watching carefully) to melt the sugar until caramelized (not too burnt). Let harden and serve alone or with a little burrata or fresh mozzarella.
- To create a sort of blooming flower or star, cut the fig as if you were cutting it into quarters, but leave a centimetre or so uncut. Pinch the bottom to squeeze the insides up a bit to make the cut tips spread out into a star. Stuff with whatever you like: chopped walnuts, gorgonzola or another favourite cheese, and/or a honey drizzle.
- Cook your figs into jam, preserve, or roast with honey for a sweet spread or treat.
- Figs are quite mellow in flavour, but cooking or drizzling them with honey, balsamic vinegar, or warm spices enhances their natural sweetness.
- Be sure to enjoy your figs within a couple days because they are highly perishable.
What Do Figs Go Well With?
Figs go well with goat cheese, blue cheese, bacon, prosciutto, pears, oranges, peaches, raspberries, red wine, balsamic vinegar or sherry vinegar, honey, phyllo pastry, caramel, vanilla, black pepper, olive oil, rosemary, cinnamon, cardamom, almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts.
Fig Serving Ideas
Figs are commonly stuffed with a tart or blue cheese and wrapped with prosciutto to be served as an appetizer, but honeyed figs and roasted figs are wonderful with yogurt for a snack or for breakfast, or with panna cotta for dessert.
Figs can be made into a jam or a preserve that goes well with pastries, crackers, or toast.
When roasted or grilled, you can add figs to a salad for some sweetness and texture as well. Or if you’d like, bake a cake and gently press figs into the top. It’ll look impressive to see fig halves studded on top of the cake showing their beautiful jewelled centres.
According to the Canadian Nutrient File, figs are extremely nutrient dense. They have high potassium and fibre content which is reported to help combat heart disease and lower cholesterol levels. On top of that, they’re rich in antioxidants — both in their fresh and dried form (albeit higher in antioxidants in dried form). Per 100 gram serving (about 2 figs), figs contain 12% of your daily fibre, 6% manganese, 7% potassium, 4% magnesium, 4% calcium and 2% iron.