Wine Culture and Information - Volume 17
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Fig

Coming from Asia, fig is a plant typical in subtropical climate regions and it is now common in most of the countries of the Mediterranean area

 Common fig (Ficus Carica) belongs to the family of Moraceae, it is a typical plant in subtropical climates and since immemorial times spread also in the Mediterranean area. The name “Carica” seems to refer to a region of Lesser Asia - Caria - which is located in Anatolia, the area where today is found Turkey. Appreciated since biblical times, fig leaves were also the first “garment” of history. It is in fact read in Genesis 3,7 «And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons». Fig is a plant very resistant to drought, it grows in the same areas of vine and olive trees, however it cannot stand to temperatures lower than -10° C, clayey and excessively humid soils. Fig prefers warm climates, limestone soils, stony and well drained. The plant has a pretty large root system and very invasive, particularly effective in searching water. In case you are planning of building a garden, before choosing the right place for a fig tree, you should consider its roots can easily penetrate tanks, pipes and basements.

 The robust gray trunk let the plant to reach up to eight meters in height. There are two subspecies: ficus carica sativa (common fig) and ficus carica caprificus (caprifig or wild fig). Common fig bears two types of fruits, one forming in autumn and riping in late springtime, and another forming in springtime and riping in summertime. The varieties of caprifig are limited to some tens of types, whereas the varieties of common fig count some hundreds different types; many of them being very ancient, including least known local varieties. The productivity of a tree depends on climate, humidity and the soil in which it grows. In a loose soil, fresh and deep a fig tree can also make 4 or 5 quintals of figs, whereas in a stony soil it rarely makes more than one kilogram. Fig tree begins to bear fruits after the fifth year of life and continues up to the sixtieth, when the plant rapidly dies.

 

Short History of Fig

 The discovery of researchers Ofer Bar-Yosef of Harvard University and Mordechai E. Kislev and Anat Hartmann of Bar-Ilan University, seems to rewrite the origins of agriculture. The discovery was made in Israel, in an archaeological site located in the low valley of Jordan river, few kilometers north from Jericho and called “Gigal I”, inhabited about 11,400 years ago. These researchers discovered in this place nine small figs and 313 small part of fruits carbonized by time, however, according to other researchers, there were indeed prepared in order to be consumed later. The discovery proves figs were cultivated about five thousands years before than it was believed and one thousand years before wheat and barley.


Tasty, sweet and nutrient, figs are among the
most ancient fruits known by men
Tasty, sweet and nutrient, figs are among the most ancient fruits known by men

 The origin of fig seems to be from Western Asia or, according to others, from the Middle East. It is however a plant with very ancient origins, very appreciated by all the people of the past, not only for its particular taste, but also for its symbolic value. History is in fact rich of artistic, religious and literary witnesses about fig. In the Old Testament it is frequently mentioned as a symbol of abundance. In India it is considered as a sacred tree, Asvattha (cosmic tree), however it should be noticed it is another type of plant, “Ficus Religiosa”. There are many varieties of fig trees and not all of them bear fruits, such as the “Weeping Fig” (Ficus Benjamina), the famous plant cultivated in houses and having large shiny leaves.

 In ancient Greece fig was the protagonist of many myths, most of the time having an erotic subject. It was considered a sacred tree because it was a primordial tree, plant sacred to the god Dionysus, because Greeks attributed to this god the creation of fig. In the fifth century BC, the Greek doctor Hippocrates mentioned in his writings animal rennet as an alternative to the one made from fig. The stoic Zeno of Citium was a great connoisseur of figs, as well as Plato, who was nicknamed for this reason “fig eater”. Besides being particularly greedy, Plato also recommended figs to his friends and students in order to strengthening intelligence. Greeks used fig secretion for the coagulation of cheese. Homer wrote the Cyclops Polyphemus made cheese in his cave, probably using fig juice for the coagulation of milk. Aristotle documented the technique of milk coagulation by using both fig juice and rennet of animal origin.

 The virtues and the agreeability of figs charmed ancient Romans, and also for them it becomes a sacred plant, just like the olive tree and vine. Publius Ovidius Naso told in occasion of New Year's Day it was common to give friends and relatives fruits of fig and honey as a good omen for the new year. According to Pliny, eating figs «increases strength in young people, improves the health of old people and reduces wrinkles». Figs were a food particularly loved by athletes and convalescents, thanks to the contents in calories and the easy digestibility. Among ancient people who used to eat figs are mentioned Etruscans and Phoenicians.

 

Properties of Fig

 Some researchers of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University believe eating figs is good for the health, as they have antimicrobial properties. These researchers came up with this conclusion after an experiment consisting on the study of development of two types of bacteria on fig extracts: Escherichia Coli and salmonella. They prepared some solutions containing Escherichia Coli and salmonella and in some of them they added fig slices. After 24 hours of incubation, in the samples containing fig slices was observed a consistent diminution of bacteria, whereas in the others was observed an opposite trend. This discovery seems to confirm one of those “old remedies” common in the Mediterranean areas, that still today suggest to use figs as a remedy for constipation, wounds in the mouth and bronchitis.

 Despite figs are very sweet, they provide only 47 kcal per 100 grams, lesser than tangerines and grape which provide 70 per 100 grams. They also have an average satiation effect and can be cause of allergies in some subjects. Fresh fruits can regulate gastroduodenal secretion and in case they are consumed in excessive quantity, they have a laxative effect. It should be remembered fresh figs must be rapidly consumed as they tend to ferment in a short time. The secretion coming out from the cuts of unripe fruits and from branches contain two enzymes: amylase and protease. The secretion of figs is used to eliminate calluses and verrucae thanks to its caustic effect and it is irritant for the skin. Dried fruits - rich in vitamins A and B, iron, potassium and fibers - contains high quantities of sugar and proteins, moreover they have emollient and expectorant properties.

 In the industrial production of figs, particular care is paid when deciding the best time for harvesting fruits. Fig stops ripening soon after harvesting and its low attitude for keeping forces producers to pay particular attention. The other phase of processing requiring a particular care is harvesting: figs must have their stems attached to the fruit and they all must have the same level of ripeness. White figs are then separated from colored figs, and during the whole processing particular care will be paid on the integrity of skin. The drying phase can begin on the tree or soon after harvesting. As for the second case, figs are dried whole or cut in two halves, put on mats with the stem upwards, properly separated in order to avoid any contact. Every day they are turned in order to ensure a homogeneous drying. During this phase it is indispensable to protect fruits from the contact with insects which can leave impurities or eggs.

 When the drying phase is over, figs are disinfected in an autoclave. A fig reaches the optimal drying phase after having lost about 30-35% of water. Dried figs can be used in many ways: mixed to other dried fruits, caramelized, glazed with chocolate and are widely used in pastry cooking. Commercial dried figs are sometimes kept by adding sulphur dioxide, therefore it is good to carefully read the label in order to buy figs without the adding of any preservative. In cooking figs can be consumed fresh or dried, they can be used for making jams or syrups, toasted and ground they can be used for making coffee or used for the production of alcohol.

 Home making of dried figs is not complicated. Take some whole and well ripened figs, cut them in halves, without separating them and make sure the stem is attached to both parts. Lay the figs in a mat to dry - protected by a sheet of canvas in order to avoid any contact with insects - and withdraw them home at night. In case you cannot keep figs at open air, you can, after having cut them in halves, to put them in an oven at 100° C until they get a nice golden color. Dried figs can be kept in a fabric bag, in a fresh and well aerated place.

 



 Events  Share this article   Share on Google+   Summary of Not Just Wine column  
  Not Just Wine Issue 55, September 2007   
FigFig Wine ParadeWine Parade  Contents 
Issue 54, Summer 2007 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 56, October 2007

Wine Parade


 

The best 15 wines according to DiWineTaste's readers. To express your best three wines send us an E-mail or fill in the form available at our WEB site.


Rank Wine, Producer
1 Soave Classico Monte Alto 2004, Ca' Rugate (Italy)
2 Sagrantino di Montefalco Collepiano 2003, Arnaldo Caprai (Italy)
3 Sforzato di Valtellina Canua 2001, Conti Sertoli Salis (Italy)
4 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Costasera 2001, Masi (Italy)
5 Barolo Cannubi Boschis 2001, Sandrone (Italy)
6 Don Antonio 2003, Morgante (Italy)
7 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2000, Zenato (Italy)
8 Barolo Bussia 2001, Prunotto (Italy)
9 Nero al Tondo 2001, Ruffino (Italy)
10 Mater Matuta 2003, Casale del Giglio (Italy)
11 Collio Bianco Col Disôre 2004, Russiz Superiore (Italy)
12 San Leonardo 2001, Tenuta San Leonardo (Italy)
13 Chianti Classico Riserva Novecento 2000, Dievole (Italy)
14 Bradisismo 2003, Inama (Italy)
15 Wine Obsession 2001, Vignamaggio (Italy)

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