Thursday, November 11, 2010

Healthy Fruit: Fig

The Common fig (Ficus carica) is a large, deciduous shrub or small tree native to southwest Asia and the Mediterranean region (from Afghanistan to Portugal). It grows to a height of 6.9–10 metres (23–33 ft) tall, with smooth grey bark. The leaves are 12–25 centimetres (4.7–9.8 in) long and 10–18 centimetres (3.9–7.1 in) across, and deeply lobed with three or five lobes. The fruit is 3–5 centimetres (1.2–2.0 in) long, with a green skin, sometimes ripening towards purple or brown. The sap of the fig's green parts is an irritant to human skin.
The Common Fig is widely grown for its edible fruit throughout its natural range in the Mediterranean region, Iran, Pakistan and northern India, and also in other areas of the world with a similar climate, including Louisiana, California, Georgia, Oregon, Texas, South Carolina, and Washington in the United States, south-western British Columbia in Canada, Nuevo Leon and Coahuila in northeastern Mexico, as well as Australia, Chile, and South Africa. Figs can also be found in continental climate with hot summer, as far north as Hungary, and can be picked twice or thrice per year. Thousands of cultivars, most unnamed, have been developed or come into existence as human migration brought the fig to many places outside its natural range. It has been an important food crop for thousands of years, and was also thought to be highly beneficial in the diet.
The edible fig is one of the first plants that was cultivated by humans. Nine subfossil figs of a parthenocarpic type dating to about 9400–9200 BC were found in the early Neolithic village Gilgal I (in the Jordan Valley, 13 km north of Jericho). The find predates the domestication of wheat, barley, and legumes, and may thus be the first known instance of agriculture. It is proposed that they may have been planted and cultivated intentionally, one thousand years before the next crops were domesticated (wheat and rye).
Figs were also a common food source for the Romans. Cato the Elder, in his De Agri Cultura, lists several strains of figs grown at the time he wrote his handbook: the Mariscan, African, Herculanean, Saguntine, and the black Tellanian (De agri cultura, ch. 8). The fruits were used, among other things, to fatten geese for the production of a precursor of foie gras. Figs can be eaten fresh or dried, and used in jam-making. Most commercial production is in dried or otherwise processed forms, since the ripe fruit does not transport well, and once picked does not keep well.
Although commonly referred to as a fruit, the fig fruit is actually the flower of the tree, known as an inflorescence (an arrangement of multiple flowers), a false fruit or multiple fruit, in which the flowers and seeds grow together to form a single mass. The genus Dorstenia, also in the fig's family (Moraceae), exhibits similar tiny flowers arranged on a receptacle but in this case the receptacle is a more or less flat, open surface.
The flower is not visible, as it blooms inside the fruit. The small orifice (ostiole) visible on the middle of the fruit is a narrow passage, which allows a very specialized wasp, the fig wasp, to enter the fruit and pollinate the flower, whereafter the fruit grows seeds.
Figs are one of the highest plant sources of calcium and fiber. According to USDA data for the Mission variety, dried figs are richest in fiber, copper, manganese, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and vitamin K, relative to human needs. They have smaller amounts of many other nutrients. Figs have a laxative effect and contain many antioxidants. They are good source of flavonoids and polyphenols. In one study, a 40-gram portion of dried figs (two medium size figs) produced a significant increase in plasma antioxidant capacity.
Fig, dried, uncooked : Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 1,041 kJ (249 kcal) | Carbohydrates 63.87 g
Sugars 47.92 g | Dietary fiber 9.8 g
Fat 0.93 g | Protein 3.30 g
Thiamine (Vit. B1) 0.085 mg (7%)
Riboflavin (Vit. B2) 0.082 mg (5%)
Niacin (Vit. B3) 0.619 mg (4%)
Pantothenic acid (B5) 0.434 mg (9%)
Vitamin B6 0.106 mg (8%)
Folate (Vit. B9) 9 μg (2%) | Vitamin C 1.2 mg (2%)
Calcium 162 mg (16%) | Iron 2.03 mg (16%)
Magnesium 68 mg (18%) | Phosphorus 67 mg (10%)
Potassium 680 mg (14%) | Zinc 0.55 mg (6%)
Percentages are relative to US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient database

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