The health benefits of… figs

A great source of fibre and full of vitamins and minerals, dried and fresh figs have a long and illustrious history. Known for being a healthy and versatile ingredient they can add a burst of sweetness to all kinds of dishes...

The health benefits of… figs

An introduction to figs

Figs are the fruit of the ficus tree, which is part of the mulberry family (Moraceae). Figs have a unique, sweet taste, soft and chewy texture and are littered with slightly crunchy, edible seeds. Fresh figs are delicate and perishable, so are often dried to preserve. This produces a sweet and nutritious dried fruit that can be enjoyed all year round. There are multiple different varieties of fig, all of which vary widely in colour and texture. Their unique feature is a little bud-like opening called an ostiole at the top that helps the fruit develop. Their natural sweetness meant that, before the days of refined sugars, they were often used as a sweetener. 

Fig plate

One of the world’s oldest trees, the fig tree can be traced back to the earliest historical documents and features prominently in the Bible. Figs are native to the Middle East and Mediterranean and were held in such high regard by the Greeks that laws were once created to prevent their export. 

 

Nutritional highlights

Figs are high in natural sugars, minerals and soluble fibre. Figs are rich in minerals including potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and copper and are a good source of antioxidant vitamins A, E and K that contribute to health and wellness.


 

A 100g serving of dried figs provides approximately:
249 calories3.3g protein0.9g fat69g carbohydrate5.6g fibre


 

A 100g serving of fresh figs provides approximately:
80 calories1.3g protein0.3g fat20.3g carbohydrate2.2g fibre

 

fig pileResearch

Figs are often recommended to nourish and tone the intestines and act as a natural laxative because of their high fibre content. Many of us consume too much sodium (salt), found in processed foods. High intakes of sodium can lead to deficiencies of potassium and this imbalance between the two minerals can lead to hypertension (high blood pressure). A diet rich in fruit and vegetables – including fresh figs, naturally increases potassium and is therefore encouraged to help lower blood pressure. 

Naturally high in dietary fibre, figs can be a useful food to include in the diet for those watching their weight. High fibre foods provide feelings of fullness and can reduce hunger and cravings. Figs also contain prebiotics, which help support the pre-existing good bacteria in the gut, improving digestive wellness.

Figs are a good fruit source of calcium, a mineral that is involved in bone density. Their high potassium content may counteract the urinary excretion of calcium caused by high salt diets. This in turn helps to keep calcium in bones and lessens the risk of osteoporosis. 

 

How to select & storefig salad

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. 

 

Safety

Figs contain high levels of oxalates. Eating excessive amounts of figs is likely to have a laxative effect and so they should be enjoyed in moderation.

 

Fudgy fig rollRecipe suggestions

Fresh and dried figs can be used in baking:
Toffee fig pies
Little fig & almond cakes
Fudgy fig roll

They are a great addition to breakfasts:
Winter fruit salad


Poach figs in juice or red wine and serve as a dessert or try one of the following:
Sticky cinnamon figs
Spiced baked figs with ginger mascarpone

Add figs to salads:
Mediterranean fig & mozzarella salad​
Stilton & fig salad with honey-thyme drizzle
Marinated fig & mozzarella salad

They also partner well with cheese:
Baked figs & goat's cheese with radicchio
Spanish fig & almond balls
Fig & walnut slice
 

Jo Lewin holds a degree in nutritional therapy and works as a community health nutritionist and private consultant. She is an accredited member of BANT, covered by the association's code of ethics and practice.

Comments, questions and tips

Sign in or create your My Good Food account to join the discussion.
Walksalott
1st Feb, 2017
Figs aren't fruit, they're inverted flowers.
pommestoo
20th Sep, 2013
Where a recipe calls for dried figs, is it possible to use fresh figs, instead, as we always have a glut of these at this time of year?
Be the first to suggest a tip for this recipe...Got your own twist on this recipe? Or do you have suggestions for possible swaps and additions? We’d love to hear your ideas.