If you thought avocados were good, wait till you taste one of these.
Move aside, avocado, and make way for the fig! A Swiss flavor and fragrance company called Firmenich has named fig as the 2018 'flavor of the year.' The Mediterranean fruit (technically, it's an 'inflorescence,' but more on that later) is predicted to grow enormously in popularity over the next 12 months, as people discover its wonderful texture, sweet taste, nutritional benefits, and remarkable versatility. Already, the number of fig-flavored products has increased 80 percent since 2012.
Figs are fascinating for many reasons. Most obviously, they're a contradiction in tastes -- deceptively dry on the outside, wet on the inside. They are melt-in-your-mouth delicate yet meaty; smooth yet grainy, even gritty; these descriptors will not make sense unless you've eaten fresh figs at peak ripeness, but anyone who has had that privilege will understand.
They can be eaten with sweet or savory foods, cooked or raw, whole or cut up. And they're stunningly beautiful when sliced open, which The Guardian maintains is a big part of the fig trend -- it has great potential for Instagram stardom (which, sadly, drives many a food choice these days):
"No food gets to be an Instagram star unless it looks good, like a pert #avocado – 7m Instagram posts – or oozy #eggs, 8.7m. #Figs, at 645,000 and counting, look best either cut halfway down lengthways and squeezed at the waist, to fan out, or sliced thinly with a fruit knife to fan over a tart or a slice of sourdough. Dark purple, milky white and all shades of red from blush to ruby...phwoar!" (I had to look that one up. Apparently it means something is awesome, sexy, or hot.)
Firmenich believes fig's appeal comes largely from its health benefits, which include "high fiber content and a variety of essential minerals such as magnesium, manganese, calcium and potassium." Furthermore, it "resonates with consumers who perceive it to represent health and authenticity" and who seek replacements for processed sugar.
Back to the fig's curious beginnings, an 'inflorescence' is a cluster of flowers and seeds inside a bulbous stem. According to the Ecological Society of America, certain varieties are pollinated by a tiny queen wasp that burrows inside to lay its eggs, bringing pollen with it; the wasp and its male offspring die inside, getting absorbed by the fig, while the female offspring exit the fruit to go pollinate others.
Before you get repelled by the notion of eating dead wasps along with your decadent figs, however, the ESA assures that some fig varieties, including the commercially cultivated fig tree, are self-pollinating. (You can learn more here.)
I've loved figs ever since I spent a year in Sardinia as a teenager. My friend Francesca had fig trees in her backyard and her mother would give me dark purple and lime green figs to eat to the point of feeling stuffed. Now that I live in a small Canadian town where fresh figs are, quite literally, impossible to buy (they're only available in the city, two hours away), I long for those languid fig-eating sessions and look forward to the day when they're easier to find.