Late summer and fall brings us one of the most ancient and gorgeous fruits: Ficus Carica, also known as the FIG. For me the fig is a symbolically poetic fruit, from its ability to perish so quickly to its succulent and colorful appearance. As a child my father and uncles would all have fig trees in their gardens and every year their bounty would be well awaited.
Just before the chill of winter would set in we would all chip in to preen and wrap these huge trees in black garbage bags and tie up with ropes. The tree is a mild climate fruit, known to the Mediterranean and now California, but to the Italian Americans in New Jersey, their climate restrictions were not going to stop them from growing their figs.
Benefits of Figs
I eat them every chance I get because I know soon there their season will end, that is part of the lure they have over me. In Positano, on the Amalfi Coast I had my most pristine fig. It was large and plump and when open exploded with gorgeous shades of red and delicious edible seeds. As with all my food obsessions I seek more reasons to eat them so I do research on the nutritional benefits of figs to justify my craze. I found that they are packed with both soluble and insoluble fiber (check out our FREE Carb Manipulation Protocol here) and have been known for centuries to relieve constipation, aid in digestion and help with anemia. Recent studies also indicate that a compound found in figs help fight cancer cell growth.
Greeks and Romans have always known of the benefits of this fruit and it was part of their diet. The fruit is full of iron, potassium, beta carotene and magnesium. It has been said that the nutrients in figs is comparable to breast milk. A phytochemical called ficin- found in figs promotes the breakdown of proteins and also aids in liver health. This special fruit has tons of nutritive qualities and are absolutely delicious.
When you do get your hands on figs from Black Mission, Calimyrna (which have yellow skins) to Smyrna, you have many ways to add them to your diet.
You can bake figs in a 425 degree oven for 15 minutes, and then they can be used as toppings on ricotta cheese or cottage cheese.
Cut them up and with some balsamic vinegar make a crostini on whole wheat cracker.
Prosciutto wrapped figs are great snacks.
Braising with figs in various meat dishes
Add figs to baked products as a substitute for sugar
Take the opportunity to enjoy these mythic fruits before they are all gone. September is when you will find them everywhere. Store them in a cool place but eat right away and do not store them for more than two days, because they deteriorate quickly. Eat them skin and all or peel if you prefer. Dried figs are good but add more sugar to your diet. Fresh is always best. Eat up!
-Fiorella DiCarlo RD, RDN, CDN