Rediscover Figs: The Aancient Fruit With Modern Appeal

The start of the 2023 California Fresh Fig season is just weeks away but California fig farmers are excited about more than harvest this year. Newly published research review confirms what the California fig industry has been touting for years: figs are delicious and nutritious. The review also suggests there are even more potential benefits with recommendations for further research in the areas of gut health, cholesterol, and glucose control.

The start of the 2023 California Fresh Fig season is just weeks away but California fig farmers are excited about more than harvest this year. Newly published research review confirms what the California fig industry has been touting for years: figs are delicious and nutritious. The review also suggests there are even more potential benefits with recommendations for further research in the areas of gut health, cholesterol, and glucose control.

“Phytochemical Composition and Health Benefits of Figs (Fresh and Dried): A Review of Literature from 2000 to 2022” was published June 3, 2023 in Nutrients, an MDPI publication, and was conducted by researchers from the Department of Food Science and Nutrition, Center for Nutrition Research, Institute for Food Safety and Health at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

According to the abstract, the review summarizes the updated information on the phenolic composition, antioxidant capacity and other functional properties of fresh and dried figs cultivated in various parts of the world, highlighting variation in phenolic composition based on cultivar, harvesting time, maturity stage, processing, and fig parts. Additionally, the review delves into the bio-accessibility and bio-availability of bioactive components from figs and their potential influence on cardiovascular health, diabetes, obesity, and gut/digestive health.

The data also suggests that the incorporation of figs regularly in the diet, alone or with other dried fruits, increases select micronutrient intake and is associated with higher diet quality. Research in animal and human models of health and disease risk provide preliminary health benefits data on figs and their extracts from fig parts; however, additional well-controlled human studies, particularly using fig fruit, will be required to uncover and verify the potential impact of dietary intake of figs on modern day health issues.

“Overall, we found the benefits associated with fig consumption by humans, albeit limited, support further research into a variety of areas important to public health, including satiety, body weight, and glycemic control when figs are included in the diet regularly,” says Britt Burton-Freeman, PhD, corresponding author of the study. “This is in addition to the fact that figs are already a nutrition powerhouse providing upward of 20% of the DV of dietary fiber per serving of dried fruit.”

Not all figs are created equal

California produces 100% of the fresh and dried figs commercially grown in the U.S. The fig flourishes in the fertile and sun-drenched valleys of California, where vast orchards of fig trees can be found.

In addition to perfect sun and soil, quality and food safety are the highest priorities for California’s fig farmers. That’s why state of the art equipment and sustainable growing practices, such as water and tree management, are in place. These California Fig farming practices have been passed down for generations.

Most of the activity in the California Fig orchards begins in May as the fruit appears on the tree. For dried figs, the activity culminates in November with the final picking. Fresh figs are also harvested through November. However, fig production is a year-round business requiring continual soil preparation, monitored irrigation, and careful pruning of the trees.

“We are thrilled to officially begin documenting the potential functional benefits of figs,” says Karla Stockli, Chief Executive Officer of the California Fig Advisory Board. “Figs are having a moment on the culinary side as many chefs and consumers are discovering the ancient fruit for this first time. The fact that figs are nutrient dense and have potential significant functional benefits is icing on the cake. It’s an exciting time for the California fig industry!”

The literature review was funded by the California Fig Advisory Board. For recipes and more information, visit CaliforniaFigs.com.

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