Did you know that the small, pear-shaped fruit called the fig was once a favourite of Queen Cleopatra? Native to the Middle East and the Mediterranean, figs are probably amongst the healthiest foods and also one of the first to be cultivated. Their voluptuous shape, honey scented aroma and chewy taste stand a class apart from the rest of the fruits. With about 30 to 1,600 small, golden seeds per fruit, figs are regarded as a symbol of fertility in many cultures.
A member of the Mulberry family, figs are botanically identified as Ficus carica and universally called the common fig or edible fig. The colour and texture of these fruits vary widely, such as shades of green, purple or brown. The flesh of the fruit is usually red, pink or amber. Due to their highly perishable nature, figs are sold in dried forms, throughout the year. Apart from the soft, sweet and pulpy nature of figs, they are involved in some serious health benefits to human beings.
How to select & store
The season for fresh figs is between summer and autumn, with the timing dependent on the variety. Figs are quickly perishable and delicate, and are usually best eaten within one to two days after purchase. When choosing figs, select those that are plump and tender, have a rich, deep colour and are free from bruising. Ripe figs have a sweet fragrance. When brought home, ripe figs should not be washed until ready to eat. They should be kept in the fridge for approximately two days. If figs are not yet ripe, keep them at room temperature to ripen.
Dried figs will keep for much longer. When purchasing dried figs, you want to ensure that they are free from mould and are soft. Dried figs can be kept in a cool, dark place or in the fridge.
Figs can be consumed either peeled or unpeeled, depending on the thickness of the skin as well as personal preference. Since the insides of ripe figs are rather soft and sticky they can be difficult to chop.
Health benefits of figs
– Fig fruit is relatively low in calories with 100 g fresh fruits providing only about 75 calories, less than bananas and dates, but more than apricots and kiwifruit. Fresh figs are rich in dietary fiber and minerals and have lower fat levels than most other fruits. They also have more iron than any other of the common fruits and are extremely high in magnesium.
– Figs are known to lower and control high blood pressure since they are packed with potassium, a mineral useful for controlling hypertension. People often complain of potassium deficiency and figs are an excellent source that can be added to their daily diet.
– Rich in calcium, figs enhance bone density. They help in overcoming the loss of urinary calcium and thereby preventing the bones from thinning out.
– Enriched with high quality dietary fiber, figs are extremely beneficial for the digestive system. In fact, it improves metabolism and keeps stomach related ailments like constipation and indigestion, at bay.
– Not only the fruits, but also the leaves of figs are beneficial. They help in lowering the levels of triglycerides, which are major form of fat produced and stored in the body. Increased triglycerides are often associated with obesity and heart disease.
– Figs contain a high amount of fiber compared to any other dried or fresh fruit. While insoluble fiber provides protection against colon and breast cancer, soluble fiber helps in lowering blood cholesterol.
– The fiber is also essential in reducing the risk of contracting chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. In addition, it adds bulk to stools thereby promoting proper bowel functioning.
– Since ages, figs have been used to reducing sexual weakness. Soaking 2-3 figs in milk is known to enhance sexual power.
– Fiber and fiber-rich foods such as figs promote weight loss and are highly recommended for obese people. However, when figs are taken with milk, they improve weight or induce weight gain.
– Elderly people often lose their eyesight due to macular degeneration. Fruits like figs are great in sharpening vision and keeping the risk of eye diseases away.
– Studies reveal that figs help in reducing the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. It was found that women who consume more fibrous fruits, such as apples, dates, figs, pears, and prunes, are at a lesser risk.
– Figs have been quite useful in various respiratory disorders like whooping cough and asthma. Furthermore, they are also good in treating constipation, indigestion, stomach ache, fever, earache, boils, abscesses, venereal diseases and promoting good health of the liver.
Preparation of Figs for Serving
Before eating fresh, ripe figs wash them in cold water under the tap and then dry with a paper towel. Some people like to peel them, other don’t mind the skin as long as it is not blemished. Figs are best eaten when at room temperature so leave them out of the refrigerator for an hour or so before serving.