What Are Figs?

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 get 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
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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. Fig Coulis 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 Products like cream, mascarpone, and creme fraiche
  • Warm spices like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, and star anise

What Does It 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
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Fig Recipes

Figs are tasty when paired with many food items. Try some of these 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
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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
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Nutrition and Benefits

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

How to Grow Figs

If you're lucky enough to live somewhere that fig trees can thrive, growing a fig tree can be pretty darn easy. Watch out for animals, who'll eat the fruit before it becomes ripe. 

Fig Growing on Tree
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