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We swear, we’re not using this page as a fig leaf to cover our previous ignorance about figs.
The fig is one of the most versatile plants on the planet, making appearances everywhere from the pages of major religious texts to the planks of any worthwhile charcuterie board. And anything that amazing and diverse is something everyone should know more about!
Gettin’ Figgy With It
When Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden, figs were already there to offer their leaves for cover.
If a name-check in one of the world’s oldest books wasn’t enough of a hint, figs have been around for a while. In fact, most scientists agree figs were one of the first plants to be cultivated by man – and many think they may have been the actual first, with fig fossils tracing back to 9400 BC, predating even the staple crops of barley, wheat and legumes.
It’s no surprise, then, that figs have done a lot of growing since they were first planted in the Middle East – spreading from the Cradle of Civilization to Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire and, eventually, Southern Europe, where they were prized during the Age of Exploration for their longevity as a seafaring snack and taken across oceans to the Far East and the New World.
Along the way, it was hard for man to resist putting his own spin on the timeless fruit, and over the millennia, more than 700 fig cultivars were developed.
Since it’d take about another millennium – or an undisputed miracle – to cover all that territory with just one list, we’ve narrowed it down to some of the most long standing and popular types of figs, with every bite tasting like history itself.
Brown Turkey Figs
Perhaps the most popular type of fig of all, these colorful cultivars are actually more of a dark purple than a straight-up brown, with a lovely light-pink inside when ripe.
First grown in Europe in the 1700s, Brown Turkey figs are known for their delicate taste, which doesn’t cut quite as sweet as some other varietals but makes for a juicy bite – or a perfect pairing with everything from salad to dessert plates.
Black Mission Figs
Right on the heels of the Brown Turkey in terms of both popularity and photo-readiness is the Black Mission fig, which cuts a beautiful deep blue-purple color and sports a puckering pink interior.
When ripe, Black Missions are incredibly sweet, sticky and syrupy, studded with the occasional pop of an edible seed. It’s a flavor and texture combo that was no doubt appreciated by the Spanish missionaries who regularly brought them on long journeys across the sea – and named the varietal after their quest to spread the Word.
Calimyrna figs may be the most Instagram-worthy of all, with the large fruits sporting a bright green exterior that particularly pops against their vibrant pink – and seed-strewn – centers.
But beauty goes more than skin-deep for this popular type of fig, with the Calimyrna boasting one of the most unique, and unquestionably delicious, fig flavor profiles, evoking the essence of honey and butterscotch with a nutty twist added with the crunch of every seed.
It’s just too bad they don’t have an app yet that will let us taste the food on the screen.
These types of figs rule when it comes to colder climates.
While most kinds of figs are sun worshippers, King Figs flourish where things are cool, blossoming more readily in the Pacific Northwest or Northern Europe. And all that restraint yields a rich, heavy flesh that cuts a confident dark purple inside the cultivar’s light green skin.
Named for the sea that really saw figs take flight from their Middle Eastern home, it’s no surprise this cultivar has picked up a number of nicknames along the way, also going by the aliases of “white figs,” (for the bright white tone they can take on in direct sunlight) and “candy-striped figs,” for the striped pattern that sometimes develop on their skin.
Normally, Adriatic figs are a pale greenish-yellow, with a deep burgundy inside and a flavor that’s so sweet it could even make a Black Mission fig blush.
Kadota figs are one of the most popular types of figs – and also one of the oldest, earning mentions as far back as the Roman Empire, where they were name-checked by ancient author Pliny the Elder.
But the antiquated cultivar is more of an acquired taste, ripening to a much less sweet example than many other types of figs. Still, it’s proven a popular choice over the year for jams and preservatives or for dishes where the heat of cooking can fire up some extra flavor inside this ageless seed.
From one of the oldest fig examples to one of the newest, this cultivar was first cultivated as recently as 2006.
The Turkey-bred varietal takes many of its flavor notes from its parent Calimyrna, but maintains a much larger and rounder body that proves easier for slicing – and enjoying straight from the rind itself.
The modern-day meddling to make even more types of figs just goes to show that there’s nothing more timeless than a good idea – or a good fruit.