What Are Figs?

what are figs

The Spruce Eats / Lindsay Kreighbaum 

The luxury of a luscious ripe fig is extraordinary. The soft and yielding fruit is full of seeds, but the seeds are so small they just add to the unique texture that makes fresh figs so sought after. Most varieties are intensely sweet, so they are used in desserts. That works, but figs can also take that honey-like sweetness to cut sharper savory flavors of cheese, meat, and other foods.

Learn more about when fresh figs are in season, how to store them, and find some great ways to highlight figs' sugary ways with piquant, bitter, and salty pairings. 

What Are Figs?

Figs are a fruit that grows from fruit trees. The plants have been cultivated since ancient times and the trees are also used for ornamental purposes. The trees grow in dry, sunny locations and are native to the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Figs can be eaten fresh or dried. They are also common in jam production.

Black Mission Figs In a Bowl
Photo © kcline/Getty Images

How to Cook With Figs

The heavily sweet taste of figs is a natural match with many savory foods. For specific ideas, try on of these 10 quick fig recipes. Or, come up with your own winning combination by keeping in mind that figs are particularly delicious with:

  • Aged Cheeses are famously paired with blue cheeses, but their sweetness makes them work with any salty aged cheese.
  • Aromatics such as garlic, olives, and capers. Figcoulis is a wonderful recipe to try these combinations. 
  • Citrus, in particular lemon and orange
  • Cured meats like pancetta, bacon, and ham
  • Fortified wines & dark spirits such as brandy, rum, port, and sherry
  • Full-flavored vinegars such as balsamic or sherry 
  • Nuts of all kinds
  • Rich dairy like cream, mascarpone, and creme fraiche
  • Warm spices like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, and star anise

What Do Figs Taste Like?

Fresh figs have a sweet, honeyed taste and a soft (some might say squishy) texture. They are unique in texture, which makes fresh figs worth seeking out. Unctuous fruit studded with discernible seeds is a far cry from the dried figs most people know. Dried figs are still tasty. They should still be plump and many have a very sweet taste. The widely produced fig roll or Fig Newton cookie is made with a dried fig filling.

Figs for Sale
Photo © Reggie Casagrande/Getty Images

Fig Recipes

Try some of these delicious fig recipes:

Where to Buy Figs

Fresh figs can be hard to find, depending on where you live. Figs have two seasons: a quick, shorter season in early summer and a second, main crop that starts in late summer and runs through fall. Figs cannot withstand temperatures much below 20°F, and so they are not available from local sources in much of the Midwest and the northeastern U.S. If you see fresh figs in the store, snag them. They won't be around for long.

Figs are fragile. Rare is the fig shopper who finds perfect, unmarred fresh figs. Slightly wrinkled (but still plump) and even split figs (as long as they are not weeping or leaking), are what you want. A bit of bend at the stem and a slight weariness to the skin both indicate better ripeness and flavor that taunt shiny skins and stems that look like they're still grasping for the tree.

Avoid figs that look shrunken are oozing from their splits, have milky liquid around the stem, or are super squishy. It also seems obvious, but just to make sure you know what to look for, avoid figs with any sign of mold. Be sure to check on the underside of the container, if they're in one, for these signals that the figs are better suited for the compost than consumption.

That yielding texture makes them particularly sensitive to travel since they split and spoil quickly when not handled with kid gloves, a fact that makes fresh figs even more seductive and finding a source for locally grown ones worth the effort.

Fresh Figs with Knife
Richard Jung Photography/Riser/Getty Images

Storage

Fresh figs wait for no one, so plan on eating them within a day or two of buying them. They keep the best at room temperature with plenty of air circulating around them. They will keep a bit longer in the refrigerator, but chilling detracts a bit from their full flavor, so try to avoid it.

Fresh Figs in a Bowl
Westend61/Getty Images

Nutrition and Benefits

Raw figs are a good source of dietary fiber, but otherwise do not have any significant health benefits. Dried figs provide more fiber than raw and also contain manganese and low levels of other nutrients.

Varieties

Black Mission and Brown Turkey figs seem to be the most common in most markets, but a wide range of figs—including striped Adriatic figs and pale green Kadota figs—is increasingly available fresh. While there are subtle differences in flavor and sweetness level, figs do more or less taste like figs, so there's no reason to be wary of trying a new variety.

Black Mission and Adriatic Figs
Photo © Patrizia Savarese/Getty Images
Article Sources
The Spruce Eats uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. US Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central. Figs, raw. Updated April 1, 2019.

  2. US Department of Agriculture.  FoodData Central. Figs, dried, uncooked. Updated April 1, 2019.