California Figs
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B.C.

  • The fig tree was held sacred in all countries of Southwestern Asia, and in Egypt, Greece, and Italy.
  • The fig is the most talked about fruit in the Bible and figs were mentioned in a Babylonian hymnbook about 2000 B.C.
  • It is definite that a fig tree provided the first clothing as noted in the Bible, “...the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons”, but there is room for speculation that the forbidden fruit might have been a fig, not an apple.

Greece

  • As a token of honor, figs were used as a training food by the early Olympic athletes, and figs were also presented as laurels to the winners as the first Olympic medals.
  • In ancient Greece men wore black figs around their necks while women wore white figs during a ceremony of purification.
  • Legend has it that the Greek goddess Demeter first revealed to mortals the fruit of autumn, which they called the fig.
  • The ancient city of Attica was famous for its figs and they soon became a necessity for its citizens, rich or poor. Solon, the ruler of Attica (639-559 BC), actually made it illegal to export figs out of Greece, reserving them solely for his citizens.
  • Figs were regarded with such esteem that laws were created forbidding the export of the best quality figs. Sycophant then derives from the Greek word meaning one who informs against another for exporting figs or for stealing the fruit of the sacred fig trees. Hence, the word came to mean a person who tries to win favor with flattery.
  • Every inhabitant of Athens, including Plato, was a philosykos, literally translated a friend of the fig. Mithridates, the Greek King of Pontus, heralded figs as an antidote for all ailments, instructing his physicians to use them medicinally and ordering his citizens to consume figs daily.

The Romans

  • Figs were respected in ancient Rome and considered sacred while according to myth the twin founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, rested under a fig tree.
  • The Romans regarded Bacchus as the god who introduced the fig to mankind. This made the tree sacred, and all images of the god were often crowned with fig leaves. The first figs of the season were offered to Bacchus, and at festivals in his honor, devout females wore garlands of dried figs.
  • Pliny, the Roman writer (52-113 AD) said, “Figs are restorative. They increase the strength of young people, preserve the elderly in better health and make them look younger with fewer wrinkles.”

Middle East and Asia

  • The Persian King Xerxes, after his defeat by the Greeks at Salamis in 480 B.C., had figs from Attica served him at every meal to remind him that he did not possess the land where this fruit grew.
  • It is said that the prophet Mohammed once exclaimed: “If I should wish a fruit brought to Paradise it would certainly be the fig.”
  • Figs are mentioned in Homer’s Iliad, as well as the Odyssey; by Aristophanes, Herodotus and Cato; and the fig is reported to have been the favorite fruit of Cleopatra, with the asp that ended her life being brought to her in a basket of figs.

Europe and Elsewhere

  • In 812 AD, Charlemagne attempted to introduce the fig to the Netherlands, but was unsuccessful because the fruit could not adapt to the cold weather.
  • Captain Bligh is credited with planting the first fig tree in Tasmania in 1792.

In California

  • The story of figs in California is relatively short in comparison the history of figs throughout the world. Figs were probably one of the first fruits to be dried and stored by man.
  • California Dried Fig production has averaged 28 million pounds over the last five years. All dried figs harvested in the United States are grown in California's Central Valley.

Fig Health & Nutrition

  • California Figs are an excellent source of dietary fiber. Just 3 to 5 – dried or fresh – provide 5 grams of dietary fiber or 20% of the Daily Value.
    • One serving – 3 to 5 dried or fresh figs – provides 3.5 grams insoluble fiber and 1.5 grams water-soluble fiber. (Vinson, 1999, 2005)
    • When adequate dietary fiber is part of an overall healthy diet, it helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels and supports heart, digestive and colon health. (Anderson et al, 2009)
    • Diet is considered to play an important role in coronary heart disease and cancer prevention. For example, diets rich in soluble and insoluble fibers, such as figs, help maintain healthy blood cholesterol levels and may lower colon cancer risk. (Anderson et al, 2009)
  • Just 3 to 5 dried (1/4 cup; 40 grams) or fresh (1/2 cup; 153 grams) California Figs count as one fruit serving.
    • North Americans of all ages fail to eat recommended amounts of fruit. Therefore, diets are low in nutrients and phytochemicals that fruits such as California Figs can provide. (2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/report).
    • Choosing figs and adequate numbers of other fruit and vegetable servings add fiber, magnesium, calcium, antioxidants and potassium to the diet. (Vinson, 1999)
    • California Figs are an easy way to add a serving of fruit to reach the daily recommendation of 4 cups (8 to 13 servings) of fruits and vegetables.
    • Choose fruits and vegetables prepared with little or no added fat, sugar or salt.
  • Figs and dried plums are rich in antioxidants among dried fruits and rank higher in antioxidants than red wine and tea, well known for their polyphenolics. (Vinson, 1999, 2001)
  • Figs are an ancient food and are naturally part of the healthy Mediterranean diet.
  • California Figs are an all-natural energy source, perfect for an afternoon snack or a quick snack before a game or workout.
  • Figs are fat, sodium, and cholesterol-free. Just 3 to 5 California Figs provide:
    Dried (1/4 cup; 40 grams)*
    • 110 calories
    • 5g fiber (20% of the Daily Value)
    • 244mg potassium (7% of the Daily Value)
    • 53mg calcium (6% of the Daily Value)
    Fresh (1/2 cup; 3-4 medium figs)**
    • 120 calories
    • 5g fiber (20% of the Daily Value)
    • 354mg potassium (10% of the Daily Value)
    • 53mg calcium (6% of the Daily Value)
    *Values from American Council for Food Safety and Quality, Dried Fruit Association Analysis
    **USDA Values

Food Safety Programs & Protocols

  • Each processing plant is inspected by the American Council for Food Safety and Quality (DFA) to ensure compliance with Good Manufacturing Practices and food safety in buildings, grounds, equipment, sanitation, pest control, employee practices and personal hygiene, receiving, storage, warehousing and shipping practices, food security and quality management systems, HACCP and foreign material.
  • All fig products are inspected and certified by the American Council for Food Safety and Quality of the Dried Fruit Association for compliance to grade and quality standards.

Sustainability

  • Most of the activity in the 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 harvested through December. However, fig production is a year-round business requiring continual soil preparation, monitored irrigation, and careful pruning of the trees.
    • Good water management during the growing season includes regular irrigation, often with systems that deliver the water directly to each tree. Mulching helps maintain tree health, vigor and longevity.
    • Trees are spaced 12 to 20 feet apart. The fig trees are trained to single trunk or multi-trunk bush systems. During the dormant season, older trees can be thinned to increase fruit size and to stimulate new growth each year.

Fossil Fuels and Dried Figs

  • As with most dried fruits, dried figs have a water content of about 30%. This amounts to a substantial saving in fossil fuel consumption during transportation from the processor to the consumer across the country and around the world. Early camel drivers in the regions where figs originated must have recognized this energy savings, too.

Economic Data

  • The industry presently represents over 100 producers, marketers, farm managers and processors of California Figs, farming 9,300 acres mainly in Madera, Fresno and Merced counties with some in Kern. Many of the producers are small business owners, while others are diversified and produce other agriculture commodities. There are five processors of figs.
  • The industry employs about 600-700 workers. From the fig orchards to the packinghouse and front office support, highly skilled employees plant, prune and harvest. At the plant, they grade, process and pack the figs.
  • Almost all employees are long-time members of the community and have worked in the industry for years, if not generations.

More About Figs

  • The fig tree is the symbol of abundance, fertility, and sweetness.
  • Figs made their first commercial product appearance in the 1892 introduction of Fig Newtons® Cookies. (See http://www.nabiscoworld.com/newtons/.)
  • For many years the fig has been used as a coffee substitute. The fruit contains a proteolytic enzyme that is considered an aid to digestion and is used by the pharmaceutical industry.
  • And, because of its high alkalinity it has been mentioned as being beneficial to persons wishing to quit smoking.
  • Figs contain a natural humectant — a chemical that will extend freshness and moistness in baked products.
  • A chemical found in figs, Psoralen, has been used for thousands of years to treat skin pigmentation diseases. Psoralen, which occurs naturally in figs, some other plants and fungi, is a skin sensitizer that promotes tanning in the sun.
  • Figs provide more fiber than any other common fruit or vegetable. The fiber in figs is both soluble and insoluble. Both types of fiber are important for good health.
  • Figs have nutrients especially important for today's busy lifestyles. One quarter-cup serving of dried figs provides 5 grams of fiber — 20% of the recommended Daily Value. That serving also adds 6% of iron, 6% of calcium, and 7% of the Daily Value for potassium. And, they have no fat, no sodium, and no cholesterol. Recent research has shown that California Figs also have a high quantity of polyphenol antioxidants.
  • Although considered a fruit, the fig is actually a flower that is inverted into itself. The seeds are drupes or the real fruit.
  • California figs are the only fruit to fully ripen to complete sweetness and semi-dry right on the tree before falling to the ground to continue drying.
  • After harvest, the figs are inspected and packaged. Packaging includes rings of figs tightly packed and over-wrapped, moisture-proof bags, wrapped finger packs, plastic cups or bulk. California figs are generally found in the produce or baking section of your favorite supermarket.
  • Figs are harvested in the late summer and early fall, but because they are dried and conveniently packaged, they are available all year long. They are popular additions to a wide assortment of baked goods, and also a part of traditional American and Jewish holiday feasts such as Succoth, Hanukkah and Passover.