Figs are a nutritious, fiber-packed fruit prized throughout history. Fresh figs do not keep well, making their season painfully short. However, the figs grown in this country have staggered harvests, which makes them available from June through September.
Today there are hundreds of types of figs,but only about half a dozen varieties are grown commercially in the United States. Here are some of the most widely available types of figs.
Adriatic figs: This Mediterranean fig has a high sugar content, making it a favorite for drying and using in fig bars and fig pastes. The fresh fig has light green skin and pale pink flesh.
Black Mission figs: Named for the mission fathers who introduced the fruit to California, the Black Mission has dark purple skin, which deepens to black when dried, and pink flesh.
Brown Turkey: This fig, with purplish skin and red flesh, is sold fresh and dried.
Calimyrna figs: A large greenish-yellow fig when fresh, the Calimyrna is the California version of the Smyrna (Cali + Myrna = Calimyrna). In their dried form, Calimyrnas have a delicious nutlike flavor and tender, golden skin, making them the most popular dried fig.
Kadota figs: The Kadota has greenish-yellow skin and purple flesh and is practically seedless, making it a favorite with people who make fig preserves. It dries to a light golden color.
Smyrna figs: This is the same fig as the Calimyrna. The only difference is that the Calimyrna is grown in California and other Smyrnas are not.
Once they are harvested, fresh figs last only about a week. As a consequence, about 90 percent of the world’s fig harvest is dried. Even though dried figs do not have the texture of fresh, they offer a dense nutritional package. Most notably, they boast an impressive amount of dietary fiber, over 9 grams in a serving of four figs. Dried figs are also a good source of vitamin B6, vitamin E, potassium, and antioxidant phytochemicals.
Of course, ounce for ounce, dried figs are higher in calories than fresh, and the bulk of their calories—almost 90 percent of them—is derived from natural sugar. But they are undoubtedly one of the best snacking and dessert foods available.
All of the main fig varieties are available dried, though the more common types are Black Mission, Calimyrna, and Kadota. In specialty markets, you can occasionally find what are called string figs—Greek figs that have been dried and flattened into disks, then strung on a long reed. In biblical times, these strings were carried by travelers as a portable source of energy.