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Grapefruit »« Feijoas

Figs

Ficus carica


Description

Figs have played a role in food and culture for thousands of years. The fig is perhaps the earliest food crop to have been cultivated, and can be found all over the world through human migration.

Dried figs are easy to find. Fresh ones might take a bit more effort but everyone should try them at least once, as they’re a completely different experience. There are literally hundreds of varieties of figs, causing them to vary in colour and texture, but generally the fruit is very sweet with chewy flesh, crunchy seeds, and smooth skin.

Figs should only be picked when completely ripe, as they won’t continue to ripen once they’re off the tree. Choose figs that yield slightly when gently pressed but aren’t too squashy, and have a light bloom, which indicates that they’re ready to eat. Avoid any that are split or leaking, or smell sour – ripe figs should smell slightly sweet.

Figs are a good source of potassium, which helps control blood pressure and is also found in high quantities in bananas. They’re also a source of fibre, iron, and calcium.

Figs are relatively perishable, so buy them as soon as you can before you plan to use them. You can store them in the fridge for two or three days, but be gentle with them as they’re prone to bruising, and bring them to room temperature before eating. Wipe them with a damp cloth before you eat them and trim off the stem, because the oozy white liquid inside isn’t pleasant to eat and can be a skin irritant.

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History

Figs, indigenous to Asia Minor, have been around since before recorded history, with many cultures claiming them to be ‘food of the gods’. The Indians and Egyptians knew the fig tree as the ‘tree of life’, they were regarded by the ancient Greeks as a symbol of fertility (cut a fig in half lengthways and see if you can figure out why), and in the Bible, Adam and Eve used fig leaves to cover themselves after eating the Forbidden Fruit in the Garden of Eden.

By the time of the ancient Greeks, figs were being cultivated in a big way. Cato, who wrote in the 3rd or 4th century BC, talked of six varieties of figs; two centuries later Pliny talked of 200. They were brought to Britain by the Romans, though not officially introduced until the 1500s.

Uses

To impress dinner guests, make a cheese board with fresh figs and nuts – this is a classic combination.

Fresh figs make a good salad with rocket and a salty cheese, such as feta or goat’s cheese, or try poaching them in red wine and serve with yoghurt, drizzled with honey.

Facts

Figs contain nearly half their weight in sugar when dried.

Though the milky juice from figs is a skin irritant, it’s also been used to treat warts and skin infections. The juice from fig leaves has been used for a long time to treat vitiligo, a disease that causes skin to lose its pigmentation.



Grapefruit »« Feijoas

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