From the book Mediterranean Fruits
by Joan Tous and Louise Ferguson


The fig (Ficus carica, Moraceae) probably originated in Western Asia, and spread to the Mediterranean. Today, the fig is a moderately important world crop, with an estimated annual production of one million tons of fruit (Sadhu 1990). Approximately 40% of this crop is sold as dried fruit. About 30% of the crop is produced by Turkey (300,000 t). Other major producers in descending order are Egypt (160,000 t), Morocco (57,000 mt), Spain (50,000 t), Greece (50,000 mt), California (43,000 t), Italy (40,000 t), Algeria (38,400 t), Syria (37,000 t), Tunisia (35,000 t), and Libya, Iraq, and Portugal (Sadhu 1990; CIHEAM 1994). While production by Italy and Spain has decreased over the last decade, that of Turkey, Syria, and Brazil has increased (IBPGR 1986).

The fruit usually is consumed fresh locally or in dried, canned, and preserved form. Dried figs and those unfit for human consumption, can be used as animal fodder. Several countries import dried figs or the paste. The main exporters of dried figs and paste are Turkey and the United States. Of California's production, 85% is marketed as dried figs, 12% as canned figs and fig juice, and 3% as fresh fruit (Storey 1975). The nutritional value of fresh figs is comparable to that of many other fruits. They are high in calcium. Dried figs, with only 20% water are nutritious relative to other fresh fruits (Table 2).

The typical fig-producing regions have mild winters and hot dry summers. The fig tree is tolerant of a wide range of environmental conditions, has a low chilling requirement, will withstand some frost and is tolerant of drought, although it grows most vigorously with abundant water. A frost of -5° to -10°C may kill the plant down to ground level. Figs can be grown on a wide range of soils, including heavy clays, loams, and light sands, but ideally the soil should be well-drained. The plant is moderately tolerant of high salinity (IBPGR 1986).

There are two main commercial types of figs, the "common fig" that produces fruit without pollination, and the "Smyrna fig" that requires pollination by a fig wasp (Blastophaga spp.), that lives in the "caprifig" (male fig), to set fruit. The "common-type" (self-pollinated) fig is more commonly grown. These cultivars bear one or two crops per year. The most famous are: 'White Adriatic' (syn. 'Verdone'), 'Black Mission', 'Kadota' (syn. 'Dottato' in Italy), and 'Conadria' in California (Storey 1975; Ferguson et al. 1990); 'Cuello de Dama Blanco' and 'Napolitana Negra' in Spain (Llacer et al. 1994); 'Kalamon' in Greece (Lionakis 1994); 'Sultani' in Egypt and Tunisia (Mansour 1994; Mars 1994); 'Rhouddane' in Morocco (Loudyi 1994), etc. The "Smyrna-types" include the popular Turkish cultivar known as 'Sarilop' in Turkey and 'Calimyrna' in the United States and other cultivars of Algeria 'Taranimt' and 'Tameriout', that have high dried fruit quality (Rebour 1955; Aksoy 1994).

The tree is propagated by rooting 20 cm cuttings of one to three year old wood taken during the dormant season. Trees are normally planted 4 m apart with 5-6 m between rows. Fruiting begins after three years. Regular fertilization will increase yields without reducing fruit quality. Figs carry two crops in a year, the main crop normally being the second crop in late summer and autumn. The first, or "breba" crop, is produced from flowers initiated in the preceding late summer and maturing from May to June. The second crop is produced from flowers on the current season's growth. Pruning may be required to maintain a balance between new and old wood, as well as to remove suckers and to keep the tree's canopy to a reasonable size for easy harvesting.

Fresh figs are picked when they begin to soften and the color change indicates maturity. When picking, gloves should be worn to prevent damaging the fresh fruit and to prevent the skin irritation caused by the white sap that contains ficin exuding from the broken stem. Since fresh figs ripen irregularly, picking should be done daily or weekly during the long harvest period (4-6 weeks). In California most figs are grown for drying. They are mechanically harvested by sweepers from the ground during Sept. and Oct. (Obenauf et al. 1978). After harvest, the dried figs are washed and can be stored for a few days at 0deg. to 1deg.C. Fruit is dried in the sun or by using an electric dryer at a temperature of 60deg. to 70deg.C before processing as dried figs.

Figs are not usually seriously affected by pests except in high rainfall areas. In these areas and during the rainy season, fruit cracking usually occurs and fungicide sprays may be necessary to control surface rot (Alternaria alternata), smut (Aspergillus niger), and mold of fig (Botrytis spp., Penicillium spp.). Aphids, birds, fruit flies, and scale insects are occasionally a problem. Figs are highly susceptible to nematodes and should not be planted in infested soils.

The economic importance of fig production is likely to continue into the future. In the world market, there is an increasing demand for fresh figs and a stable demand for dried figs. The most important trade aspects of this species are the short commercial life of the fresh fruits, and for the dried fruits, the market competition of Turkish production, where production costs are lower than for other countries (Europe). Fig production in some European countries is slowly decreasing. Turkey and Mexico are expanding their fig production. At present, evaluation of fresh cultivars in Europe and 'Calimyrna' improvement in the United States, combined with improved cultural practices and better fresh fruit postharvest practices are opening new prospects for this crop.

Table 2. Nutritional composition of Mediterranean crops (per 100 g of edible portion). Source: Goulart (1980); Sawaya et al. (1983); Fernandez Diez (1983); IBPGR (1986); Morton (1987); Cantwell (1994).

Crop/Product Olive (ripe pulp) Mandlarin Fig, fresh Fig, dried Persimmon Pomegranate (pulp) Pistachio nut Carob flour Cactus pear (fruit pulp) Loquat
Water (%) 70.8 87.0 78.0 23.0 79.0 82.3 5.3 11.2 85.0 86.5
Cal. 163 45 80 274 77 65 594 180 38 168
Protein (g) 1.2 0.8 1.3 4.3 0.7 0.9 19.3 4.5 0.5 1.4
Fat (g) 18.6 0.1 0.3 1.3 0.4 0.3 54.0 1.4 0.1 0.7
Total (g) -- 13.0 20.3 69.0 19.6 16.4 19.0 80.7 11.0 43.3
Fiber (g) 1.7 0.5 2.0 5.6     1.2 0.3 2.2 7.7 1.8 0.9
Ash (g) 2.1 0.3 0.6 126 -- 0.5 2.7 2.2 1.6 --
Ca (mg) 79 30 50 77 6 3 131 352 60 70
P (mg) 19 23 22 3.0 26 8 500 81 34 126
Fe (mg) 0.9 0.4 0.6 34 0.3 0.7 7.3 5.0 0.8 1.4
Na (mg) 760 5 2 640 6 3 -- -- 0.8 --
K (mg) 48 140 194 100 174 259 972 950 161 348
A (IU) 200 30 80 0.10 2710 Tr 230 50 40 2340
Thiamine (mg) 0.01 0.08 0.06 0.10 0.03 0.02 0.70 0.03 0.01 --
Riboflavin (mg) 0.18 0.03 0.05 0.10 0.02 0.03 0.20 0.05 0.02 --
Niacin (mg) 0.1 0.2 0.4 0.7 0.2 0.3 1.4 2.5 0.3 --
Ascorbic acid (mg) 3 45 2 0 15 4 0 -- 30 3

Last update August 22, 1997 aw

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Tous, J. and L. Ferguson. "Fig". Mediterranean fruits. p. 416-430. In: J. Janick (ed.), Progress in new crops. 1996. Web. 8 Mar. 2017.

Published 8 Mar. 2017 LR
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