Figs 101: A Beginner’s Guide

From health benefits and superfood status to Fig Newtons and the fascinating truth about the symbiotic relationship between wasps and the Ficus carica, we’ve got your questions answered. Here’s everything you ever – and a few things you never – wanted to know about fabulous figs.

Around these parts, the arrival of a long-awaited fig season is the stuff of dreams. And in those dreams I’m sitting, hands folded neatly in my lap, patiently waiting for the wretched dog days of summer to pass. As autumn draws closer I stroll past the farmers’ market vendors with bated breath until my eyes catch sight of the most spectacular figs. At last, the time has come! I stagger to my car – a crate full of perfectly plump figs in my arms – and recount all the ways I’ll savor the sweetness that is late-summer fig season. 

And then I snap out of it. 

I’m at our local grocery store scanning the aisles for a small plastic container of a few (five, at most) overpriced, half-molded Brown Turkey figs. 

If it sounds a little dramatic and altogether disheartening, well … welcome to fig season in the American South. It’s so short lived that there’s an entire generation of us that grew up thinking figs were soft cookies in little yellow packages made for dads and grandpas by some guy named Fig, family name Newton. 

The struggle is real, y’all. (Insert big sigh.)

While it’s true that fresh figs are often a challenge to find in many areas of the U.S., it’s also true that absence makes the heart grow fonder. So, with that, I’ll stop lamenting on their limited availability so we can celebrate the oft-overlooked – yet highly sought-after – little gem that is the fig.

If you’re new to figs or want to familiarize yourself, this guide will get you started with the basics. Let’s dive in!

Ripe Brown Turkey figs before harvest (Source: Getty Images)

The Basics

The common fig, scientifically known as the edible fruit of Ficus carica, is technically not a fruit at all. It’s a cluster of flowers and seeds that grow inside of a pod. 

There are more than 10 varieties of edible figs, though only a few are common in the U.S. Each fig has unique characteristics, including taste, texture, color, size and appearance.

Types of Figs Common in the U.S.

Mission figs – These figs are often distinguished by their smaller size and dark skin that is various shades of deep purple and almost black. These figs have a mild sweetness about them.

Brown Turkey figs – These are among the most commonly available figs where I live in the Southeast. With purple and green skin and a deep pink inner flesh, this variety boasts a sweeter, softer flavor profile.

Smyrna figs – Also known as Calimyrna figs, this variety has a greenish golden skin with a bright pink flesh. The flavor is described as on the nutty side, comparatively speaking.

Tiger figs – Also known as Tiger Stripe figs, these jammy figs have a sweet flavor that has been compared to raspberry preserves. In looking at and tasting its deep red inner flesh, it’s easy to see why so many people enjoy Tiger figs.


Figs are native to the Mediterranean region where climates are temperate and warm, and today are grown throughout the world, including in the Middle East and India. In the U.S., the state of California is home to the majority of commercially produced fresh figs. When I say “majority” I mean 98% of U.S. grown fresh figs are farmed in the Golden State, according to California Figs.


Figs have two primary seasons – early summer and late summer to early fall. Even so, the harvest is short, making the fig a hyper-seasonal superfood with limited availability most of the year.

About That Fig Wasp Rumor …

A quick online search of ‘wasps and figs’ will generate pages of headlines meant to make us all think we’re eating the exoskeleton of a wasp every time we bite into a fig. 

Technically, we are. But it’s not what you think. 

Figs couldn’t exist without fig wasps, and the symbiotic relationship between the two is truly fascinating. Figs are pollinated by fig wasps, and thanks to science, an enzyme within the fig breaks everything down before it gets to you. That’s right – the important stuff is done long before the fig hits your kitchen table. And those little crunches you’re munching on? They’re seeds. 

The U.S. Forest Service offers an overview of fig and fig wasp mutualism if you’d like to learn more. 

Health Benefits of Figs

Figs are considered superfoods, and for good reason. These tiny pods pack a powerful nutritional punch as the source of essential vitamins and minerals as well as a rich source of dietary fiber. Vitamins B6 and K, calcium, copper, magnesium and potassium are among the most beneficial essential nutrients in figs, which may contribute to some of the following health benefits.

  • Support cardiovascular health
  • Regulate blood pressure 
  • Support bone health
  • Promote digestion
  • Reduce the risk of hypertension
  • Support muscle function 
  • Protect against some cancers
  • Promote healthy skin

And it’s not just figs themselves that provide nutrients. Fig leaves, which are sometimes consumed as tea, also offer a broad spectrum of health benefits including healthy digestion, reduced risk of heart disease and the management of blood sugar, according to Healthline.

A Note on Dried Figs

Dried figs, also known as anjeer, are higher in both sugars and calories than their fresh counterparts. Enjoy dried figs in moderation.

Side Effects of Figs

It’s important to note that figs are often used as a natural laxative and remedy to constipation thanks in part to their role as a prebiotic, or healthy gut microorganisms . Eating too many figs at one time may have adverse effects on digestive health, so moderation is key. 

Consult your health care provider if you have concerns or questions about how your body may respond to eating figs, particularly if you have pre-existing digestive conditions.

Brown Turkey fig seeds

Fig FAQs

Are Figs Good For You?

Yes, figs are superfoods that offer a wide range of essential vitamins and nutrients that help our bodies heal and promote overall health and wellness. See the “Health Benefits of Figs” section above for more details.

What are the side effects of figs?

Figs have long been used as a natural remedy for digestive issues like constipation. While figs in moderation can promote a healthy gut, eating figs in excess can actually cause stomach upset, diarrhea and other digestive issues.

Consult your physician before eating figs if you’re on blood thinners or have an allergy to birch pollen as adverse side effects are possible.

When are figs in season?

Figs technically have two seasons: early summer (May–July) and late summer/early fall (September–October). However, the seasonality of figs will depend on where you live and the surrounding climate. 

Are figs a type of fruit?

Figs are trees with edible flowers, which are the pods that you and I know as figs. 

Where do figs grow?

Figs grow in many regions across the globe but are native to the Mediterranean region and are most successful in warm, temperate climates. 

What does a fig taste like?

Different varieties of figs each have their own unique characteristics and flavor profiles. In general, figs are known to be subtly sweet, making them versatile for using in both savory and sweet dishes.

How do you know when figs are ripe?

There are several ways to tell when a fig is ripe. Some people look at the color, but with numerous varieties of figs – some of which stay green – I find it easiest to use the touch test. Hold the fig in your hand and ensure it is soft to the touch. You want it to be squishy but not so soft that it can’t hold its shape. An over-ripe fig will be extremely soft to the point of collapse and may smell sour, while an unripe fig will be firm. 

How to store figs?

Fresh figs can be stored in the crisper of your refrigerator for up 4-5 days. It’s important to keep figs cold in order to keep them fresh for as long as possible. Figs kept at room temperature are more likely to ripen over the course of a couple of days, so unless you plan to use them immediately it’s best to keep figs chilled. Figs can also be frozen. While I have never tried this method, Southern Living has a great guide on how to store and freeze figs.

Can you eat the skin of a fig?

Yes! You can and you should. The entire fig is edible and the skin contains nutrients like Vitamins C, B6 and K as well as being rich in anthocyanins, which are highly beneficial antioxidant phytochemicals that are common in purple and blue hued foods.

What’s the difference in dates vs. figs?

Dates and figs are very different plant-based foods. Healthline provides a thorough review of the distinctions in the article, “What’s the Difference Between Dates and Figs?”

Sliced Brown Turkey figs preparing to roast

Interested in learning how to dehydrate figs?

Drying figs can be done at home using different methods and tools, including the oven or a dehydrator. Alison Corey of the blog Keeping the Peas has a phenomenal guide to walk you through the process of drying your fresh figs. It’s a great way to preserve figs to enjoy year round.

Learn More About the Health Benefits of Figs

If you’re new to figs, I hope this guide has served as a helpful resource. We’ve barely scratched the surface of the goodness of figs, so below I’ve included recommended resources for further reading.                                               

*Medical Disclaimer: All content and information on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or healthcare provider if you are seeking medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Sweet New Roots, LLC is not liable for risks or issues associated with using or acting upon the information on this website

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