I often write about specific foods from the healthy Mediterranean diet, but there are a few I haven’t discussed before…like figs.
So, in honor of the Yuletide season, let’s talk about them.
As a child and young man, I picked figs fresh off the trees in southern France and Italy in early fall, and ate the whole fruit right on the spot. Of course, dried figs are also a traditional part of Christmas foods. They’re used to make a rich, boiled pudding with flour, suet, and other dried fruit.
This concoction is known as figgy pudding (or, less poetically, plum pudding). In fact, when you hear the strains of “we wish you a Merry Christmas” and the request to “bring us some figgy pudding,” that’s what they’re singing about.
Figgy pudding is thought to have originated in medieval Britain as a way to preserve food for the winter. Along with dried fruit, the pudding could also contain beef, mutton, wine, and spices. As a soup-like dish, it was served as a fasting meal in preparation for the Christmas season.
The fig tree is also featured in the history of many other cultures. Figs are thought to be among the first cultivated fruit trees in Egypt and Arabia. Buddha is said to have reached enlightenment while sitting under a Bodhi fig tree. In India, the goddess Nirantali is credited with creating tongues for human speech from the vibrating leaves of a fig tree. And ancient Greek and Roman mythology associated figs (and wine) with the god Dionysus/Bacchus.
According to modern science, figs are highly nutritious. They’re rich in fiber—and are a good source of vitamins A, B, C, and K. Figs are also loaded with copper and contain significant levels of calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium.
Because of their high fiber content, some research shows that figs can help promote healthy digestion and relieve constipation. Plus, they’re a prebiotic food—which can also aid in healthy digestion, as prebiotics help to nurture the natural probiotics that keep your gastrointestinal microbiome healthy.
In addition, the potassium in figs may help lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease. And figs’ calcium and potassium have been shown to improve bone density and fight osteoporosis. (I’ll report more on bone health in next month’s issue.)
So, how can you take the best advantage of this healthy, nutritious fruit?
I personally like to combine fresh or dried fig with walnuts, blueberries, prunes, and cranberries for a flavorful holiday treat. You can also make some homemade figgy pudding, using the cooking techniques I outline on page 6. (There are plenty of festive recipes online.) It’s healthier, tastier, and more tender than that infamous fruitcake.