Wikispanishfood.com editorial team
The fig is an interesting, original fruit that must deteriorate to reach optimal conditions for consumption. It's sometimes round and flattened, but in most cases it's wider than it is long and is covered in a greenish, black or purple skin, depending on the variety.
Although the skin is edible, it is generally discarded. Ancient records show that the edible fig originated in Arabia, although the cultivated fig industry most certainly began in Asia Minor. Figs have been popular among a range of different cultures on the banks of the Mediterranean for many centuries.
From Egypt to Romulus and Remus, through to Plato
This fruit has been a basic part of the diet of many different cultures since ancient times. In Egypt, hieroglyphics illustrating the fig harvest have been found in the pyramid of Giza (more than 4,000 years old). It was Plato's favorite treat; in fact, he called it "the philosopher's fruit". Galen recommended them to athletes that completed in the Olympic Games. The Phoenicians brought them to Rome, and legend has it that Romulus and Remus were suckled by a wolf under a fig tree.
The primary producing countries are Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, France, the US and Brazil. In Spain, the main producing regions are Huesca (Fraga), Lleida, Ávila (Sierra de Gredos), Murcia and Alicante.
The fig has a high water content and is rich in carbohydrates (sucrose, glucose and fructose), which our bodies turn into glucose, with the result that it's an ideal food for people who need a boost of energy or who are engaging in intense physical activity. It's also rich in fiber, and has a moderate amount of vitamin A, which is involved in antioxidant activity. Figs have always been a prized fruit.
They are generally classified into three groups, depending on the color of their skin. There are "white" figs, which are whitish, yellowish or green when ripe; "colored" figs, which are light bluish in color; and then there are "black" figs, which are dark red.
One of the most popular varieties is Lady's Neck, a type of white fig, which has thin skin and an intense sweetness, and comes from Tiétar Valley in Ávila. There's also a black Lady's Neck fig. They are flatter, have thicker skin and the flesh is purple and very sweet. This variety is grown mainly in Lérida and Huesca (Fraga). Other varieties available in Spain include the Napolitana, the Fraga, and the Burjassot.
Brevas and figs are the infructescence of the fig tree, which belongs to the Moraceae family, which comprises more than 1,000 species of trees and bushes that produce latex. The first crop of the fig tree produces the breva, after which, in a second crop, comes the fig.
One of the best ways to eat them is fresh, and if they're ripe, they have an exquisite flavor and sweetness. There are many ways to eat figs. In Andalusia, for example, one traditional format is fig bread, which is made with dried figs and almonds. One of Spain's most famous fig breads comes the town of Cuevas, in Almería: it's a round, flat cake with dried figs seasoned with cinnamon, clove, almond, orange peel and anisette. It's a food that provides a lot of energy.
Figs are a common fruit in pastry-making, purées, and stuffings, and they're also delicious in marmalades. Another very popular way to eat them is dried, which is achieved using a drying process that can be done either on a small or industrial scale. They are also delicious when combined with nuts, such as walnuts. Figs can be preserved all year round in syrup. They also pair well with game and poultry. Fresh figs are available from August until the end of October, and dried figs all year long.
We recommend CASA ECUADOR, in Madrid, which makes a pastry with figs and cheese. In Valencia, BASILICO serves them with lime and cream LEVANTE prepares them in a compote with cottage cheese. Recipes from two of the best chefs in Spain include stuffed figs, by Elena Arzak, and avocado mousse with dried figs, by Eva Arguiñano.
CASA ECUADOR. Batalla del Salado, 3. Tfno. 915 281 960. Madrid restaurantecasaecuador.com
LEVANTE. Góngora 1. Tfno. 960 651 152. Valencia www.restaurantelevante.com
BASILICO. Cádiz 42. Tfno. 963 168 369. Valencia www.grupandilana.com
ARZAK. Alto de Miracruz. Tfno. 943 278 465. San Sebastián www.arzak.info
KARLOS ARGUIÑANO. Mendilauta, 13. Tfno. 943 130 000. Zarautz. Gipuzkoa. www.hotelka.com