About Figs

Preparing and cooking figs

Figs Nutritional Profile
Energy value (calories per serving): Moderate (fresh figs) High (dried figs)
Protein: Low
Fat: Low
Saturated fat: Low
Cholesterol: None
Carbohydrates: High
Fiber: Very high
Sodium: Low (fresh or dried fruit); High (dried fruit treated with sodium sulfur compounds)

Major vitamin contribution: B vitamins
Major mineral contribution: Iron (dried figs)

About the Nutrients in Figs
Figs, whether fresh or dried, are high-carbohydrate food, an extraordinarily good source of dietary fiber, natural sugars, iron, calcium, and potassium. Ninety-two percent of the carbohydrates in dried figs are sugars (42% glucose, 31% fructose, 0.1% sucrose). The rest is dietary fiber, insoluble cellulose in the skin, soluble pectins in fruit. The most important mineral in dried figs is iron. Gram for gram, figs have about 50 percent as much iron as beef liver (0.8 mg/gram vs. 1.9 mg/gram). A serving of 10 dried figs has 17 g dietary fiber and 4.2 mg iron (30 percent of the RDA for a healthy woman of childbearing age).

The Most Nutritious Way to Serve Figs
Dried (but see How other kinds of processing affect figs, below).

Diets That May Restrict or Exclude Figs
Low-fiber, low-residue diets
Low-sodium (dried figs treated with sulfites)


Buying Figs
Look for: Plump, soft fresh figs whose skin may be green, brown, or purple, depending on the variety. As figs ripen, the pectin in their cell walls dissolves and the figs grow softer to the touch. The largest, best-tasting figs are generally the ones harvested and shipped in late spring and early summer, during June and July. Choose dried figs in tightly sealed airtight packages.

Avoid: Fresh figs that smell sour. The odor indicates that the sugars in the fig have fermented; such fruit is spoiled.

Storing Figs
Refrigerate fresh figs. Dried figs can be stored in the refrigerator or at room temperature; either way, wrap them tightly in an air- and moistureproof container to keep them from losing moisture and becoming hard. Dried figs may keep for several months.

Preparing Figs
Wash fresh figs under cool water; use dried figs right out of the package. If you want to slice the dried figs, chill them first in the refrigerator or freezer: cold figs slice clean.

What Happens When You Cook Figs
Fresh figs contain ficin, a proteolytic (protein-breaking) enzyme similar to papain in papayas and bromelin in fresh pineapple. Proteolytic enzymes split long-chain protein molecules into smaller units, which is why they help tenderize meat. Ficin is most effective at about 140-160°F, the temperature at which stews simmer, and it will continue to work after you take the stew off the stove until the food cools down. Temperatures higher than 160°F inactivate ficin; canned figs—which have been exposed to very high heat in processing—will not tenderize meat.

Both fresh and dried figs contain pectin, which dissolves when you cook the figs, making them softer. Dried figs also absorb water and swell.

How Other Kinds of Processing Affect Figs
Drying - Figs contain polyphenoloxidase, an enzyme that hastens the oxidation of phenols in the fig, creating brownish compounds that darken its flesh. To prevent this reaction, figs may be treated with a sulfur compound such as sulfur dioxide or sodium sulfite. People who are sensitive to sulfites may suffer serious allergic reactions, including potentially fatal anaphylactic shock, if they eat figs that have been treated with one of these compounds.


Canning - Canned figs contain slightly less vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin than fresh figs, and no active ficin.

Medical Uses and/or Benefits of Figs
Iron supplementation. Dried figs are an excellent source of iron.

As a laxative. Figs are a good source of the indigestible food fiber lignin. Cells whose walls are highly lignified retain water and, since they are impossible to digest, help bulk up the stool. In addition, ficin has some laxative effects. Together, the lignin and the ficin make figs (particularly dried figs) an efficient laxative food.

Lower risk of stroke. Potassium lowers blood pressure. According to new data from the Harvard University Health Professionals Study, a long-running survey of male doctors, a diet rich in high-potassium foods such as bananas may also reduce the risk of stroke. The men who ate the most potassium-rich foods (an average nine servings a day) had 38 percent fewer strokes than men who ate the least (less than four servings a day).

Adverse Effects Associated with Figs
Sulfite allergies. See How other kinds of processing affect this food.

Food/Drug Interactions in Figs
MAO inhibitors. Monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors are drugs used as antidepressants or antihypertensives. They inhibit the action of natural enzymes that break down tyramine, a nitrogen compound formed when proteins are metabolized, so it can be eliminated from the body. Tyramine is a pressor amine, a chemical that constricts blood vessels and raises blood pressure. If you eat a food rich in one of these chemicals while you are taking an MAO inhibitor, the pressor amines cannot be eliminated from your body, and the result may be a hypertensive crisis (sustained elevated blood pressure). There has been one report of such a reaction in a patient who ate canned figs while taking an MAO inhibitor.

More Vegetables Guide

Visitors Currently Online: 12