Italian Figs – An Introduction
The fig tree is an ancient plant, which grows in many countries such as Greece, Turkey, Portugal and Spain as well as the U.S. and of course Italy. This plant belongs to the blackberry family and it is considered a ‘xerophyte’ plant, which means it can survive in an extremely dry climate with desert-like characteristics. Our favourite Italian figs come from the souther part of the country from the hotter regions of Calabria and Campania.
The fig plant dates back to the first Mesopotamian civilizations and has in time spread out to all the Mediterranean.
Both the Greek and the Romans used to eat figs, considering them aphrodisiacs and, as a matter of fact, it is thought that in the old testament the prohibited fruit tree was not the apple but the fig, hence the fig leaves that Adam and Eve find themselves wearing.
Romans used to think that figs had an energizing power and, considering the high caloric intake these fruits have, it is very plausible that they came to such a conclusion because of the effect such calories had on the body.
The Benefits of Italian Figs
- Extremely nutritious and energy-giving.
- Enormously rich in fibre (almost 5g per fruit) and very low in sugars (less than 10g per fig).
- They have fewer calories than dates but still contain all of their essential minerals. They also contain more zinc, calcium and iron than dates as well as more magnesium.
- Figs are essential to a healthy immune system
- Very beneficial when it comes to relieving constipation.
- They are also known to lower the oestrogen level in the body and to help to prevent excessive weight gain linked oestrogen imbalances.
The Fig: A False Fruit With Countless Varieties
The part of the plant that we eat and that we wrongly call fruit is actually not a fruit at all! What it actually is, is a group of fruits that clamp together which is called ‘Sconio’, while the real fruit is the part that is inside this pear shape. This formation is sweet and sugary and has an amazingly delicious taste!
There are many different varieties of figs, which are all extremely tasty. Some varieties called ‘Fioroni’ are usually quite big in size and are generally harvested between May and June, while others are harvested between August and September and have smaller fruits. Some fig plants produce fruits twice yearly while others only once.
Among the best Italian figs varieties we can find the:
Callara: This is a large type of fig, which blooms twice a year, with a purple-red skin and a dark pink pulp. These fruits usually bloom in June and September.
Dattero: This fig blooms only once a year in August. With brown skin and red pulp, it has quite a sweet taste.
Dottato: This is one of the most common figs in Italy which blooms twice a year in June and August, producing light green fruit with a yellow pulp and is generally of a small size. This fig has a very delicate taste and is usually eaten with freshly cut ham as an interesting, savoury contrast.
Gentile: This variety produces fruits only in July and is characterized by a green skin and pink pulp with a delicious and delicate taste.
Obviously there will be varieties tied to special regions such as the Dottato del Cilento or the Dottato Cosentino which are both DOP products.
The Different Ways You Can Process Italian Figs
Figs can be eaten both fresh and processed. There are different ways to process the figs and, because of that you can obtain very different finished products. Some figs are peeled, slow cooked in the oven and then dipped in different types of chocolates or sauces. Others are simply dried in the sun, respecting the old, Italian tradition.
Figs can also be turned into tasty jams or stuffed with walnuts, chestnuts, almonds or other tasty nuts and then sprinkled with cocoa.
Why not take a look at one of our fig suppliers ‘Santomiele and Marano‘, both historical family run businesses that have been creating delicacies with Italian figs for many years now. They are famous for their amazing stuffed and chocolate coated figs. You can taste their products through our website.
Figs are used in many recipes, here’s a traditional Christmas recipe made with fig syrup from Calabria for you to enjoy!
Turdilli are small gnocchi shaped sweet ‘fritters’ eaten at Christmas time. There are many variations to this Turdilli recipe and the ingredients can differ wildly from town to town and family to family!
1160g 00 type flour
200g fig syrup
150g powdered sugar
250ml of olive oil (used in the dough)
Seed oil (use for frying)
Step 1 Pour the sugar into the Muscat wine or Vermouth and wait for it to dissolve. Once ready, add olive oil and the flour and knead until you get thick dough.
Step 2 When the dough is ready, knead it and make it into dumplings of about 3 or 4 cm in length, these can be embellished by working them on a patterned surface so that they will get the imprint of the surface on the dough.
Step 3 Once ready, fry the turdilli balls in hot sunflower oil, until they have reached a perfect golden brown colour. After frying place them in a bowl and let cool for a few minutes, then pour over the fig honey making sure that the honey covers them entirely.
Try this recipe by adding dried Italian figs to the dough; the result will be amazing and even more delicious!
Figs are an amazing fruit; energetic, healthy and tasty. They are great as an after dinner treat adding a touch of guilt-free sweetness.