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Fig is a fruit of the Ficus species of woody trees, shrubs, vines and epiphytes. This species of trees are native to tropical to slightly temperate climates. However, the fruit that we all know as fig is from the fig trees that grow in Middle East and Ukraine and these golden brown fruits grow to a length of 1 to 2 inches. When ripe, this fruit has a texture similar to that of a peach and can be eaten fresh as well as dry. Fig recipes hold an important place in the culture and cuisines of these regions. These fruits have many culinary uses in the Middle East and one very popular recipe of this cuisine is Figs in Syrup, where these fibrous fruits are soaked in sweet syrup. Other popular fig recipes are Cranberry Fig Chutney, Fig Pudding, Fig Apple Compote, etc. Depending on the region of harvesting, there are many varieties of figs.

History of Figs and Fig Recipes
Figs have known to exist since the early Egyptian time. In fact, there is reference to this very rich fruit in the bible and various other ancient writings. These chewy fruits soon spread to other places like the ancient Crete and then by 9th century BC to Greece, where they became the staple food and fig recipes became part of the Greek traditional diet. Because of the esteemed place of this fruit in the Greek culture, export of good quality figs were prohibited. Similarly, this fruit held a sacred place in the Roman culture as well. By the 16th century, these highly nutritious fruits were carried to the Mediterranean region and then to the west by the Spaniards. By the late 19th to early 20th century, California became one of the largest producers of figs.

Culinary Uses of Figs
Figs are ideal to be added to cereals, in milk and also to various desserts. This rich fruit can be eaten dry or fresh and similarly, it can be added to dishes as dry or fresh. Some common ways to cook these fibrous and fleshy fruits are to either simmer them (dry) with juices or milk, poach in juice or red wine or even serve with yoghurt or any frozen dessert. Fig recipes also include certain oatmeal cereals that can be garnished with dry figs and fruits salads, cheese salads, hors d’oeuvres and desserts are certain other dishes that include either dry or fresh figs.

Popular Fig Recipes of Various Cuisines
Figs are an integral part of the Mediterranean and Middle East cuisines. They are known to not only add flavor but a lot of essential nutrients as well to the dish. Some popular fig recipes of various cuisines are–

  • Figs in Syrup -This is one of the most popular fig recipes of Middle East, which is enjoyed even in the west. This dessert is made by simmering figs in a mixture of water, sugar, cinnamon flavoring and vanilla essence along with orange zest and orange juice. The contents need to be simmered till the syrup thickens. Khoshaf is another popular Middle Eastern recipe that has fig as one of the ingredients along with various dry fruits such as almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, apricots, and raisins. These are simmered in syrup made of water, sugar, corn starch, along with rose water and orange blossom water added for flavoring.
  • Mediterranean Chicken and Figs – This is a popular low fat fig recipe of the Mediterranean cuisine. Chicken breasts are sliced and stir fried in olive oil followed by sliced vegetables such as red, green and yellow pepper, mushrooms, onions, and garlic. Once sautéed, these ingredients are garnished with figs and spiced with parsley, basil, white wine, black pepper and salt to taste. All the ingredients are cooked well before serving with whole grain rice and green salad.
  • Mediterranean Fig and Radicchio – The main ingredients of this popular Mediterranean fig recipe are figs and kalamata olives along with torn radicchio and frisee. Goat cheese and crusty sour dough bread pieces are other ingredients that complete this salad, which is spiced with balsamic vinegar, honey, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Nutritive Value of Fig Recipes
Figs are the richest source of fiber and antioxidants compared to any fruit or vegetable. These fruits are also a rich source of potassium and manganese. Antioxidants are known to help fight the risk of cancer; however people suffering from kidney stones and gall bladder should avoid eating this fruit in any form as it contains oxalates. Oxalates crystallize when taken in excess and this can lead to certain health problems. Another point to consider is that sulfites are used as preservatives when figs are dried on a commercial basis and the presence of sulfites can aggravate the condition in asthmatic patients.

Figs: Trivia
Figs range in texture and color depending on the variety and there are almost 150 varieties of figs that grow in the tropical regions.