Figs are part of the mulberry family, along with jackfruit and breadfruit.
This ancient fruit, which dates back more than 4,500 years ago to western Asia, is an important symbol in many world histories, including the ancient Greeks and Romans, and religions including Christianity, Buddhism and Islam,.
It represents fertility, peace and prosperity and can make any dish special.
There are hundreds of varieties. The most popular in the United States 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% the daily value of dietary fiber and 6% of the mineral potassium, helpful in controlling blood pressure.
Fresh and dried figs contain important phytochemical compounds, including quercetin and epicatechin, which have potential health benefits. According to a study in Food Research International, darker varieties have higher amounts, as do ripe fruit.
Fig fruit, leaves and roots also have been associated with other health benefits.
Quercetin has been associated with cardiovascular protection.
Fresh figs are quite perishable, so plan on eating them soon after buying them.
Choose fresh 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.
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 an appetizer.
Environmental Nutrition is written by experts on health and nutrition.