The Fig.

our favorite fruit

Although considered a fruit, the fig is actually an inverted flower. The seeds are the real fruit in figs. Native to areas from Asiatic Turkey to northern India, figs spread to all the countries around the Mediterranean.

Figs have been farmed for thousands of years. Figs or fig trees are mentioned in the Bible more than fifty times. They have been found in jars at the pyramids of Giza. Every inhabitant of Athens was a “philosykos,” literally translated, “a friend of the fig.” Early Olympic athletes were given figs as a training food and fig leaves were made into laurel wreaths and given to the winners of the first Olympics as a “medal.”

The Spaniards brought figs to the Americas in the early 16th century. The missionary fathers brought them to California… “Mission Fig” gets its name from this history. The Smyrna fig was imported from Turkey to California in 1882. It was given the name of Calimyrna in honor of the grower’s home.

the fig

A History Of The Fig

The Fig has many Biblical ties because it was cultivated in the areas in which events from the Bible took place. It took on symbolic significance when Adam and Eve used fig leaves as the first clothes.

Archaeological finds of this mystical fruit date as far back as around 11,400 B.C.! It has even been posited that the Forbidden Fruit was a Fig, not the apple most commonly portrayed in the Fall of Adam and Eve.
Most wild fig trees require pollination. However, there are natural genetic changes that result in a few wild trees that do not require pollination. Reproducing these mutant fig trees can only be done by taking cuttings and intentionally re-planting them. Thus, evidence of fig cultivation has been found that dates this fruit among the earliest crops planted and harvested by humans.

The Fig has many Biblical ties because it was cultivated in the areas in which events from the Bible took place. It took on symbolic significance when Adam and Eve used fig leaves as the first clothes. Figs are mentioned throughout the Bible over fifty times.

Ficus Carica is most likely indigenous to Asia Minor, part of what we presently know as Turkey. From there, it developed and became widely cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region. Greek and Roman civilizations esteemed figs so highly that their love of the fruit influenced the invasion of Greece by Xerxes and the destruction of Carthage by the Romans. Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, writes a short explanation of the caprification process, whereby the Smyrna type figs are pollinated, in his “History of Animals”. Romulus and Remus are pictured nursing from the mother wolf while underneath a fig tree.

Greeks and Romans helped spread the cultivation of figs to other countries under their influence. At various times, figs abounded in Africa, Portugal, Spain, France, and had even made their way to the Isle of Britain. Turkey has remained a center of fig cultivation and production since the earliest times of the fig. Figs did not make the trip to North America until Franciscan Missionaries from Spain founded Missions in California. Fresno eventually became the center of California fig cultivation and production, and is currently the only region in the US where figs are grown on a large commercial scale.

Where figs are grown

Turkey is the world’s largest fig producer, followed by Egypt, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco and Iran. The US follows up that group at number six, with California accounting for 98% of national production.

Fig varieties

Although there are hundreds of varieties, what many find in retail or grocery stores are usually a select few of those which stand out for their superior flavor and sweetness.

Some of these are: Black Mission, Sierra, Tena, Conadria, and Calimyrna. Figs make excellent back-yard fruit trees because they are hardy (except in climates that have very cold winters, like those in some Northern U.S. states) and they produce a reliably good crop year to year.

What's the best way to eat a fig?

Some say that there is no better way to enjoy a fig than when fresh, but, being such an ancient food, those with culinary talents have created other exquisite ways to eat figs throughout history. 

Browse our recipes page for inspiration on incorporating figs into your favorite dishes!

Fig Varietals

Mission Figs

The most popular commercial fig variety, Mission Figs, or Black Mission Figs, originated in the Mediterranean region. They may have been first cultivated in Spain, because they first appeared in California when Franciscan Missionaries brought them from that country. In fact, Mission figs were once also called Franiscana Figs. The Missionaries are the source of this fig’s name – the Mission.

Calimyrna Figs

The Calimyrna is one of California’s most esteemed fig varieties. As the name suggests, it is a Smyrna-type fig, which means it needs pollination from the symbiotic Blastophaga wasp to mature into a ripe fig with a superior sweet and nutty flavor. If they remain in their un-pollinated state, they do not ripen and are called “caprifigs”.

Tena Figs

Tena’s are refreshing and very sweet in flavor. Their inside is a white to light pink color and the skin is a greenish-yellow. It is well-suited for hot, dry climates like that of the Central Valley. Tena’s are very productive and hardy trees and are resistant to many types of defects common to figs. Another fig variety bred and introduced by Dr. Ira Condit, Tenas are good for both fresh and dried use.

Conadria Figs

The Conadria fig was bred by California fig pioneer, Dr. Ira Condit. It was bred from an Adriatic fig, hence the name “Con-adria”. It is a yellow-green fig with an interior that ranges from light red to amber. It has a mild and sweet flavor which makes it perfect for eating as a snack or adding to salads, confections and other dishes. Figs ripen in June and often again in August. 

Sierra Figs

The Sierra fig is a sweet and mild variety with a soft, almost creamy interior. It has a yellow-green exterior skin. The Sierra was introduced by University of California Cooperative Extension (Kearney) breeders in 2005 to be used by growers in the Central Valley. Growers have found that the Sierra does well in fresh and dried applications. Sierras are common-type figs.

Tiger Figs

This variety is relatively new. It is a light yellow color with unique dark green stripes and a bright red-purple interior with a fruity, raspberry citrus-like flavor.