Ah, the fresh fig. A sweet, seed-studded fleshy nectar of the gods for centuries. This unusually delicious fruit is has two growing seasons, its first being in June, and the second starts in August and goes into the fall. If you’ve never tried fresh figs, now is a great time to give them a taste bud test drive.
Before you turn up your nose at the mere thought of biting into a fig (which, for many, conjures up the image of the brown sticky filling of the well-known Newton™ cookie), it should be noted that the fresh version is nothing like its dried, wrinkly cousin. Aside from being light and delicious, the fresh fig is full of nutrients and fiber, and is very versatile, working well in appetizers, desserts, and just plain snacking.
Because of where they are traditionally grown – they thrive in warm, dry climates – fresh figs are mostly associated with Italian and other Mediterranean cuisines in which fresh fruit takes center stage. California, which has a similar climate to Italy, has been the main grower of figs in the United States, but more local farmers are giving the prolific fruit tree a try because it’s fairly easy to manage, given the right growing conditions.
Although the fig is considered a fruit, it’s actually a flower that has inverted into itself, clustered inside the “pod.”
What Do They Taste Like?
Some say the fresh fig is reminiscent of a strawberry, with a honeyed sweetness. Its flesh is soft (it should never be “mushy”) and while not tart, it has a clean, refreshing quality.
Selecting The Perfect Fruit
Look for fruit that is slightly soft to the touch with no surface breaks in the skin. Because figs fully ripen on the tree and are then harvested, the day you purchase them is really when they are ready to eat. A fresh fig should have the texture of a ripe peach. Seeing clear sap coming through the stem of the fig is perfectly fine, and usually indicates the fruit is at its sweetest and ripest. Avoid fruit that looks shriveled or has a milky liquid oozing from the stem. Figs are usually packed in mesh plastic containers containing about 8-10 pieces so be sure to check the fruit at the bottom of the container for freshness.
Figs won’t last long at room temperature, so it’s best to consume them right away. If you must store them, remove the figs from their container, place in a shallow bowl in a single layer, and store in the refrigerator where they will keep for several days. Rinse under cool water before eating or cooking, but avoid rinsing the fruit before refrigerating. Chilling does takes away from their flavor so it’s recommended to eat them straight from the market.
The most common variety of fig is the Black Mission, which was named for the mission fathers who planted the fruit along the California coast. This variety is a deep purple color that darkens to black when dried. Other varieties include Alma, Celeste, Kadota and Brown Turkey, to name a few.
How To Eat
Perfectly ripe fresh figs are fine to eat right from the carton, and because they’re small enough to eat in two bites, they make a great snack. The seeds, while abundant, are not quite as off-putting to some as they are in the dried variety, and add to the fruit’s fiber content. The skin is also edible – no need to peel – and is full of antioxidants. But the flesh of the fresh fig is its true delight: sweet, light, and melts in your mouth. The stem is a little tough, so you should discard, but virtually all of the fruit is edible.
Not Just For Dessert
Because figs are a sweet fruit, they are usually associated with dessert, but they are also wonderful paired with savory flavors, like cured meats, assorted nuts, and sharp cheeses like Stilton. They are also visually appealing so they look great on any appetizer or cheese platter. Simply quarter or halve, and serve alongside any accompaniment (see list below).
Fresh figs are a good source of potassium, manganese and fiber. About 90 calories a piece, they contain no fat and 1 gram of protein. Figs also contain a proteolytic enzyme, known as ficin, which is known to aid in digestion and is used in many pharmaceuticals.
Pair Fresh Figs With:
Sharp soft cheeses like Blue or Stilton
Mild, rich dairy like mascarpone, crème fraiche or heavy cream
Olives, capers, and garlic
Citrus fruits, especially oranges
Cured meats, like bacon, pancetta or prosciutto
Dessert wines like port
Nuts of any variety
If you don’t see fresh figs at your local supermarket, it’s most likely because the delicate fruit doesn’t travel well and shipping them is difficult, which tends to drive up the cost. They have to be handled very carefully, which is why some grocers shy away from carrying them. But that’s not to say they don’t travel at all. Put in a request with the produce manager at your favorite market. Or scour your local farmers’ markets. Once you try the fresh fig, you’ll soon be adding this delicate gem to your weekly shopping lists.
Fresh Figs with Goat Cheese and Honey Appetizer
6 Ripe Fresh Figs
Goat cheese (not crumbles) at room temperature
Directions: Halve the figs and place on a decorative platter or plate. Spoon a small amount of the goat cheese onto each fig half, and drizzle with honey. Serve.