Dried figs are a wholly unique treat with a chewy, soft, yet crunchy texture, rich and earthy sweetness, and versatile format that is finally getting the attention they deserve. This guide to dried figs offers tips on buying, storing, and using this unique fruit, with links to recipes.
Many people, especially those growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, first encountered figs in the form of Fig Newtons. Filled with a thick paste made of dried figs, the fruit itself wasn’t appreciated as a whole food for another decade. While awareness of fresh figs still lagged, this introduction in the snack aisle gave dried figs an easy entryway into American households.
A Brief History of Dried Figs
For as long as humans have enjoyed eating fresh figs, dried figs have been part of that equation. Since figs are very perishable right off the tree, methods of preservation have been crucial to making the most of any harvest.
Sun-drying is the oldest technique known for food conservation, demanding only space and time without any additives, equipment, or storage constraints. The first dried figs were likely found by accident, naturally shriveled on the tree before picking but still perfectly good to eat.
Modern processing is considerably more advanced, starting with sterilization in a rinse of water and acid, often as benign as lemon juice, to ensure safety. The fresh figs are then rapidly moved through powerful wind tunnels to accelerate the drying process, ensuring consistent texture and taste for every batch.
Some companies do add sulfur dioxide or sulfates to extend shelf life. Sulfates are mineral salts that can be organic or man-made, but some people are sensitive to these ingredients, so check labels carefully if you’d like to avoid them.
Out of the hundreds of species of figs that grow wild around the world, only a select few are chosen to be dried. You may have better luck finding greater diversity in specialty markets and online sources, but mainstream grocery stores will typically carry two options:
- Black Mission Figs: Dark purple or nearly black skin defines these figs. Robustly flavorful and fruit, they can sometimes have a subtly bitter edge to contrast their intense sweetness. These are generally favored for snacking out of hand.
- Turkish, Smyrna, and Calimyrna Figs: Although the labels may be different, the fruit inside is all the same. These figs originated near the city of Smyrna in Turkey and were later brought to California where they flourished, hence the hybridized name. They have a thick, beige exterior with an almost jam-like soft interior punctuated by the assertive crunch of seeds. These are best for baking and cooking.
Buying, Storing, and Using Dried Figs
Dried figs are sold in most grocery stores along with the other dried fruits in shelf-stable pouches or clear plastic clamshell containers. They range in price from $5 to 10 per pound, directly corresponding to quality. Lesser dried figs can be hard, full of excess (and inedible) stems, or simply bland. It’s worth investing a little bit more to get better dried figs, no matter how you plan on using them.
Stored in an airtight container at room temperature, dried figs should keep for 6 to 8 months, depending on your climate. For a safer long-term solution, store them in your fridge or freezer to extend their viability to at least a year.
No further preparation is necessary to enjoy dried figs as a snack. Simply remove and discard the hard stem; the rest of the fruit, including the seeds, is completely edible. Dried figs can be combined with other dried fruits and nuts for a customized trail mix, either whole or chopped into smaller pieces.
If your figs are especially hard, it can be helpful to soak them before incorporating them into other recipes. You can rehydrate them with plain, warm water, or add more flavor by using orange juice, brandy, bourbon, or rum.
Flavored spirits are especially popular for festive holiday preparations, adding another layer of indulgence to the finished treat. Figs can soak for as little as one hour or up to one full day, depending on how soft they should be for the intended recipe.
Dehydrating fresh figs
If you want to dry your own figs from fresh fruits, you can either cut them in half or keep them whole. Use a food dehydrator or air fryer set to the lowest possible temperature (around 200 degrees) for 6 to 10 hours. Flip every 1 to 2 hours, until greatly reduced in size and dry to the touch. Make sure they’re completely cool before storing.
See also: A Guide to Fresh Figs
Considered by many as “nature’s candy,” figs are high in natural sugars. Since these sugars are further concentrated by the drying process, they’re relatively high in calories and should be eaten in moderation by anyone managing diabetes.
By the same token, that makes figs an excellent, compact energy source for the physically active, or anyone that needs a snack while on the go, like hikers and runners.
Figs are good sources of potassium and calcium, both key minerals for improving bone density. They contain a good dose of prebiotic fiber, so they’re also good for digestion and satiety.
Other key nutrients found in figs include Potassium, Iron, Magnesium, and Vitamins A and C. These components remain intact and are even easier to absorb by the human body after the drying process. Here’s a detailed guide to the nutritional benefits of dried figs.
Hannah Kaminsky’s Nouveau Fig Bars — link to the recipe just below
Recipes and Serving Suggestions
Cookies and bars: Feeling nostalgic about the Fig Newton cookies of your youth, but craving something a bit more wholesome? Nouveau Fig Bars are made without gluten or refined sugars, but perfectly soft, sweet, and even more delicious than the originals.
Pudding: Let’s have some figgy pudding, or it simply wouldn’t be Christmas! This British staple is a steamed or baked cake, dense with dried fruits and spiked with spirits. Toasted Pecan Gingerbread Figgy Puddings combines the concept with the bright spice of gingerbread cookies for an even more festive affair.
Granola: Swap out boring raisins for chopped figs in any granola recipe or try this Fig and Walnut Granola, specifically designed to allowing the fruit to shine.
Pies and tarts: Proving that everything goes well with chocolate, you’d never believe that this Plant-Based California Fig Chocolate Cream Pie is so easy to make or so good for you, too! There’s no flour, oil, or refined sugar, but the taste is pure chocolate bliss.
Tagine: Moroccan cuisine is known for combining sweet dried fruits with savory spices, as seen in the simple Chickpea Tagine with Figs. These contrasting flavors balance each other beautifully for harmony in every bite.
Sichuan sensation:For a more unconventional approach, Figgy Mapo Tofu uses Chinese Sichuan peppercorns to create a fiery fusion of cultures.
Alternative sweetener: Used as a spread in sandwiches, paired with soft cheese, or as a lower-sugar alternative in baking, basic Fig Paste is an indispensable staple in the kitchen.
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Contributed by Hannah Kaminsky: Hannah has developed an international following for her delicious recipes and mouthwatering food photography at the award-winning blog BitterSweet. Passionate about big flavors and simple techniques, she’s the author of Vegan Desserts, Vegan à la Mode, Easy as Vegan Pie, Real Food, Really Fast, Sweet Vegan Treats, The Student Vegan Cookbook, Super Vegan Scoops, and The Everyday Vegan Cheat Sheet Pan. Visit Hannah at BittersweetBlog.com.
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