Figs: benefits, varieties, nutritional values and where to find them

Figs: benefits, varieties, nutritional values and where to find them

Figs

Soft and sweet, dried figs are a must during winter holidays, as the end of a dinner, the protagonist of recipes or eaten at the end of the day in front of a lit fireplace: with their natural sweetness, they are tender delights to bite into. Let’s get to know them a little better, together with their features and secrets.

Botanical aspects

The fig (Ficus Carica) is a plant of very ancient origin from the Middle East, presumably from Caria - a historical region of Asia Minor - from which it seems to derive its scientific name.

Ficus Carica is a member of the Moraceae family, which includes about 1500 species, and there are two subspecies of the genus Carica: Ficus carica sativa (domestic fig) and Ficus carica caprificus (wild fig).

The fig tree can grow up to 10-12 metres in height, but under specialised cultivation conditions it rarely exceeds 3-4 metres and is generally arboreal, whereas the wild types are more shrubby.

The fig tree has been known since ancient times: it was cultivated in the splendid gardens of the Babylonians and was revered by the Egyptians as a tree of life and immortality from which the sun god Ra rose every day, and from whose wood the most precious sarcophagi were made to accompany the dead to the afterlife. In Roman times, however, legend has it that Romulus and Remus were suckled by the she-wolf under a fig tree, while in Greece it was closely linked to the myth of the god Dionysus, god of lifeblood and natural energy.

The fruits

The plant begins producing fruits around the 5th year after planting and reaches its maximum production (40-60 kg of fruit) around 30-40 years of age: it can survive up to 60 years and more! What is commonly referred to as the "fruit" of the fig tree is in fact an infructescence (false fruit), called syconium, inside which tiny flowers are collected.

The domestic fig produces essentially two types of fruit:

  • The “big flowers” or early figs: these form in autumn and ripen in late spring/early summer of the following year.
  • Proper figs: these originate in spring and ripen in late summer of the same year.

Production and processing

There are several differences between the harvesting of figs suitable for fresh consumption and those intended for drying: the latter is carried out in max. two or three operations, in contrast to the harvesting of fresh figs, which is carried out in stages during the coolest hours of the day.

According to the weather conditions, the actual drying of the fruit can take place directly on the plant, and takes about four to eight days; otherwise, it is carried out after harvesting, where the still-fresh fruit is placed on tarpaulins to encourage air circulation and is dried in the air.

If drying takes place on the plant, the sufficiently dry fruits fall to the ground in a natural way. This is a very critical phase because it is the time when aflatoxin contamination is most likely to occur: it is therefore essential that the fruits are picked from the ground every day.

Once harvested, the figs must be completely dried until their moisture content is 20-22% (or less than 24%).

Drying can be:

  • Natural: drying that takes place completely under the sun, placing the figs on racks and moving them by hand to promote uniform dehydration and avoid the formation of mould.
  • Forced: drying in an oven or hot-air dryer, sometimes after blanching with water.

The figs are then graded and sanitised of any contaminants. When the process is complete, they are packaged and can take on different shapes depending on the appearance of the fruit.

Country of production and varieties

Among the main producers of such fig varieties that are suitable for drying there certainly are Greece and Turkey, where in the Aegean area, particularly in the provinces of Aydin and Izmir, more than two thirds of national fig production is concentrated.

In Turkey, the most widely cultivated variety is undoubtedly the Sari Lop, a type characterised by large, fleshy fruits with a very thin skin, the drying of which begins directly on the plant. Its morphological characteristics, combined with a sweet and vaguely nutty taste, make it a variety particularly suited to the dehydration process. In Greece, the most widely cultivated variety is Smyrna.

In Italy, most fig production, both for fresh consumption and for drying, comes from the southern regions (Abruzzo, Calabria, Campania, Apulia and Sicily). The varieties used for the production of dried figs are Dottato, Brogiotto and Pissalutto. In Italy, the Fico bianco del Cilento (which belongs to the Dottato variety) has been certified as a PDO, while the fichi secchi di Carmignano are a fig-based preparation that enjoy the slow food presidium and are considered a typical preparation of the Tuscany region.

Nutritional values

Dried figs are a source of minerals, particularly calcium (173mg/100g) - they contain more than whole milk (119mg/100g) -, but also iron, magnesium, potassium, copper and manganese.

A portion of dried figs, about 40g which corresponds more or less to 4/5 figs, contains about 4 grams of fibre which makes this food a good snack with good satiating power. Fresh figs, on the other hand, have a good laxative effect when eaten in large quantities.

Where can you buy figs online?

Sources:

http://www.nutspaper.it/archivio-numero-nuts-paper.asp?pr0_cod=15

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_fig

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