Environmental Nutrition: Get friendly with figs
Figs (Ficus carica) are part of the mulberry family, along with jackfruit and breadfruit.
This ancient fruit, which dates as far back as 2500 B.C. to western Asia, is an important symbol in many world histories, like the ancient Greeks and Romans, and religions, including Christianity, Buddhism and Islam, representing fertility, peace, and prosperity. Figs continue to be iconic for their role in the beloved Fig Newton and figgy pudding, and their unique ability to make any dish special.
There are hundreds of varieties of figs, the most popular in the U.S. include Black Mission, Calimyrna, Brown Turkey and Kadota. They range in color from shades of white to yellow/green and red to purple/black, and they have a sweet, seedy, soft flesh. One serving of fresh (1/2 cup) or dried (1/4 cup) figs contains 14% DV (Daily Value, based on 2,000 calories/ day) of satisfying dietary fiber to help manage a healthy weight and 6% DV of the mineral potassium, helpful in controlling blood pressure.
Fresh and dried figs have several plant, or phytochemical, compounds, including quercetin and epicatechin, with antioxidant capacity and potential health benefits. According to a study in Food Research International (January 2019), darker colored varieties of figs have higher amounts, as do ripe fruit. Fig fruit, leaves, and roots have also been associated with other health benefits, like anticarcinogenic activities. Quercetin has been associated with cardiovascular protection and, according to a study in the European Journal of Medical Chemistry (June 2018), emerging science may lead toward its use as a treatment for heart disease.
The finer points
Fresh figs are quite perishable, so plan on eating them shortly after purchase. Choose figs that are rich in color, firm, plump and sweet smelling. Select dried figs that are somewhat soft, mold-free and have a pleasant fragrance. Refrigerate fresh figs up to two days, and keep dried figs in a cool, dark place or refrigerate them. Fresh figs are in season from June through September, but dried figs may be enjoyed year-round. Snack on them as is, add chopped figs to oatmeal, slice them into salads, roast and add to pizza, pilafs and desserts, or stuff them with a nut and soft cheese for a simple but sublime appetizer.
(Environmental Nutrition is the award-winning independent newsletter written by nutrition experts dedicated to providing readers up-to-date, accurate information about health and nutrition in clear, concise English. For more information, visit www.environmentalnutrition.com.)
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