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What’s the Fig Idea

Karen Alexander, Licensed Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

August 11, 2020

The fig is one of the oldest known fruit trees in the world, yet not many people eat figs regularly. As early as 2900 B.C., in early Sumerian times, the medical use of figs was already being highlighted. Figs are mentioned in a Babylonian hymnbook dated about 2000 B.C. Figs can be eaten fresh, dried, or canned and are often used in the preparation of jam. They are rich in phytonutrients (natural compounds found in plants), known to boost immunity, reduce inflammation, slow aging and prevent or reduce the risk for chronic diseases.

Figs are fat, sodium, and cholesterol-free. The total sugar content of fresh fig is 16% and of dried is 52%. Figs are a good source of fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, copper, and manganese. They contain Beta-amyrins, Beta carotenes, glycosides, Beta-sitosterol, and xanthotoxol, among other phytonutrients.

Nutritional benefits:

  • Iron: The most important mineral in dried figs is iron. Figs have about 50% as much iron as beef liver.
  • Calcium: a half cup dried figs is equivalent to a half cup milk in calcium content.
  • Fiber: Due to its high fiber content (3-5 figs provide 20% of daily value), figs are valued for its laxative properties.
  • Prebiotic: Fiber from figs acts as a prebiotic, promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria, such as Bifidus and lactobacillus, which are linked to numerous health benefits.
  • Eat the fig peels, especially those with a dark color; they contain the highest concentrations of phytochemicals and antioxidant activity compared to fig fruit pulps.

Health benefits:

  • Studies based on in vivo and in vitro reported that figs fruits, stem, leaves, and latex have health benefits through antioxidant, anti-inflammatory effects, antimicrobial, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-inflammatory effects. 
  • Studies have found that the addition of fig to the diet of insulin-dependent diabetes patients could help control blood sugar after meals.
  • Extract from figs have shown antimicrobial activity on Pseudomonas, a common bacterial infection in humans and animals.

5 Fun facts

  1. Although considered a fruit, the fig is actually a flower inverted into itself. The seeds are the real fruit in figs.
  2. Figs were Cleopatra favorite fruit.
  3. For centuries, figs were used as a natural sweetener before the widespread use of cane sugar.
  4. Early Olympic athletes were given figs as a training food. Figs were also presented as laurels to the winners, becoming the first Olympic “medal.”
  5. Use a fig puree can as a fat replacement in moist, soft and chewy baked goods. Start by replacing only half the fat called for in the recipe. 

5 Fun ways to eat more Figs

  1. Add diced dry figs to nuts and chocolate to change up your trail mix.
  2. Toss fresh or dried figs into salads, overnight oats, and baked goods for that unique and delicious balance without added sugar.
  3. Blend plumped dried figs, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, water, and salt for a smooth salad dressing.
  4. Add fresh figs to your pizza; they will caramelize into sweet goodness.
  5. Slice fresh figs on top of your favorite toast with nut butter for a great start to your morning.

How to choose

Choose figs that are plump and tender, have a vibrant deep color, and are not bruised. Ripe figs have a sweet fragrance.

How to store

  • Do not refrigerate unripe figs. If kept out of the sun, once they are ripe, they can last 2-3 days.
  • Store ripe figs in the fridge for up to 2 days.
  • Store dried figs in the original sealed package at room temperature for a month. For more extended storage, keep them in the refrigerator where they can be stored for six months to a year.
  • Figs should not be washed until ready to eat.

The recipe of the week comes via

Grilled pizza with gorgonzola, figs, balsamic onions


1 red onion- very thinly sliced into rings

2 tablespoons olive oil

Pinch salt

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Pinch pepper

1 teaspoon sugar or honey

16 ounces pizza dough, divided into two balls (or divide into 4)

1 garlic clove- smashed

1 cup grated mozzarella

1 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese

8 figs- quartered

Handful arugula


Preheat oven to 450 F or set grill to high heat

Let dough rest on a floured surface 20 minutes.

In a large skillet, sauté onion in oil, over medium-high heat, stirring frequently 3 minutes. Lower heat to medium. Add a pinch of salt. Continue sautéing 10 minutes or so until onions begin to caramelized and become soft. Add balsamic, sugar, and pepper. Continue to cook about 3-4 more minutes, until balsamic reduces. Set aside.

Divide dough and stretch into 2 or 4 very thin ovals or rounds.

If grilling, place directly onto the hot grate and grill 2 to 3 minutes (until you develop nice grill marks) and flip and grill the other side. Set aside and repeat, or if grill is large enough, feel free to do more than one at a time.

Rub each crust with smashed garlic, divide and sprinkle the cheeses, top with figs and onions, and either place in a hot oven to finish or return to the grill, placing on top of a sheet pan.

Notes: Alternatively, you can bake the pizza in the oven on a sheet pan or hot pizza stone, topping the raw dough with cheeses and figs, then placing it in the oven. Bake until the pizzas are cooked through, about 9-11 minutes, remembering that the thinner the crust, the faster they will cook.

Pull out from the oven top, place on a wood board, sprinkle with arugula, cut and serve immediately.


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