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Dried Figs: 4 Methods of Drying, Their Cultural Significance, Health Benefits & Uses in the Kitchen

Updated: Jan 18

Image credit to my good friend, Siro Petracchi

Dried figs are a delicious and versatile snack that has been enjoyed for centuries. Whether you're looking for a healthy and convenient snack or an ingredient to add to your favorite dishes, dried figs have a lot to offer.

In this article, we'll explore the history and cultural significance of dried figs, their health benefits, and different methods for drying and using them in cooking. We'll also share some tips for rehydrating over-dried figs and using them in your favorite recipes. So, whether you're a seasoned fig enthusiast or new to this sweet fruit, read on to discover the many benefits of dried figs.

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Dried Figs

Dried figs are a delicious and nutritious snack that can be enjoyed on their own or used in a variety of recipes. They are made by removing most of the moisture from fresh figs, resulting in a concentrated form of the fruit that is easy to store and enjoy.

If you're experiencing issues with the taste of your figs, such as them being bland or watery, dehydrating them can help to intensify their flavor and bring out new dimensions.

Dried figs will last for several months to over a year if stored properly in an airtight container. To extend their shelf life, store dried figs in the refrigerator or freezer.

In addition to being a tasty snack, dried figs are also a great ingredient for adding to recipes. Use them in baked goods, granola, or as a sweet addition to cheese boards. Dried figs are also a great source of fiber and other essential vitamins and minerals, making them a healthy and convenient snack option.

To dry figs, here are 4 methods that I would recommend trying. I’ll compare some of the pros and cons of each method so that you can decide which method works best for you.

In the right climate and with the right fig variety, you can even dry figs right on the tree!

Drying figs in an Oven

Drying figs in an oven is a convenient and efficient method for preserving figs. It is a great option if you want to dry a large batch of figs quickly, or if you live in a humid climate where air drying is not an option.

To dry figs in an oven, preheat the oven to its lowest temperature setting (usually around 145°F to 170°F). The lower the temperature and the longer they dry, the better. Slice the figs and place them on a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet with the skin side down.

Make sure each fig is not touching another. Cover with tin foil. Bake the figs in the oven for 4 to 8 hours, depending on the thickness of the slices, until they are no longer sticky to the touch or to your water content liking.

It's important to keep a close eye on the figs as they dry in the oven to ensure that they do not become too dry. Over-dried figs will be tough and chewy, instead of soft and chewy. This is the main disadvantage when drying them in the oven or in a dehydrator. It’s usually too warm and they dry too quickly leading to overdried figs.

On the other hand, because they dry quickly, there’s less of a chance for mold to form and other quality issues to occur.

Drying Figs in a Dehydrator

Using a dehydrator to dry figs is a popular and convenient method that allows for precise temperature and time control. Dehydrators are designed to gently remove moisture from fruits, vegetables, and meats while preserving their flavor and nutrients.

To dry figs in a dehydrator, slice them in half or quarters and place them on the dehydrator trays. Make sure to leave some space between the figs to allow for adequate airflow. Set the temperature to the lowest setting. Anywhere between 90-115F and let the figs dry for about 6-12 hours, depending on the thickness of the slices.

As with other methods of drying, it's important to keep a close eye on the figs as they dry in the dehydrator to prevent them from over-drying. Over-dried figs can become hard and have an unpleasant texture.

One advantage of using a dehydrator is that it's easy to dry a large batch of figs at once. Plus, the consistent temperature and controlled environment of the dehydrator can help prevent mold and other quality issues from forming.

Sun Drying Figs

Sun drying figs is a traditional method of preserving fruit, which has been used for centuries. This method involves exposing the figs to the sun and dry air to allow them to dry naturally. Sun drying figs like other methods of drying concentrates their sweetness resulting in a chewy and sweet dried fruit that doesn’t require special equipment like an oven or a dehydrator.

To sun dry figs, you will need fresh figs and a sunny and dry location. Place the figs cut side up on a clean surface, such as a drying rack. Make sure that the figs are not touching each other and that there is good airflow around them.

Expose the figs to the sun for several days, until they are dried to your liking.

My friend Siro Petracchi sun dries his figs in a traditional way in his town of Carmignano, Italy by placing a few fennel seeds inside the figs and drying them on reeds. You can purchase dried figs from Siro. I’d highly recommend it. They’re very tasty.

Feel free to contact him here and tell him I sent you.

Images were used with Siro's permission.

Drying Figs in the Refrigerator

This is my favorite method of drying figs because they’re able to dry slowly and an incredible mineral flavor comes to the forefront when I dry them this way. Sun drying should result in a similar product and that method could be used for the same reasons, but because my climate is too humid to sun dry my figs, this is the next best option.

As I said above, drying figs in a dehydrator or an oven can dry them too quickly, but if you can dry them in the sun or in the refrigerator, the quality will typically be higher.

To dry figs in the refrigerator, cut the figs in half and place them on a dry plate or baking sheet with the skin side down, and make sure they're not touching. It’s critical that the plate and the skin are completely dry. Pat them dry before placing them in your refrigerator and slowly dehydrate them over the course of 2-3 weeks.

This process allows for easy control of moisture levels and can lead to the perfect dried state of a jammy pulp with a semi-dried chewy outside. However, it's important to be mindful of your growing practices, such as not overwatering your trees. This will ensure the best quality and help to avoid mold formation while they’re drying.

For more on my favorite method of drying figs, check out this article that I wrote, here:

The Pros and Cons of Each Drying Method

Each drying method for figs has its own advantages and disadvantages. Let's discuss them to help you choose the right drying method for you.

  • Sun drying is the most traditional and natural method, resulting in a chewy and sweet dried fruit without the need for special equipment. However, it can be difficult to control the drying conditions and prevent pests or other contamination from affecting the figs.

  • Oven and dehydrator drying are both convenient and efficient methods that allow for precise temperature control, enabling you to dry a large batch of figs quickly. However, it's important to keep a close eye on the figs as they dry to prevent them from over-drying, which can result in a loss of flavor and texture.

  • Drying figs in the refrigerator is another option for those living in humid climates, as it can help to preserve the flavor and texture of the fruit. However, it can be a slow process that requires several weeks, and it's important to be mindful of the growing practices and moisture levels of the figs to avoid mold formation.

Ultimately, the best method for drying figs will depend on your specific needs and preferences.

Freeze-Drying Figs

As a bonus method, Freeze-drying is another way to preserve figs. This process involves freezing the figs and then removing the moisture through a process called sublimation. Freeze-dried figs are lightweight, and crunchy, and can be stored for several years without spoiling. This makes them a great option for long-term storage and for use in backpacking and camping trips.

To freeze dry figs, begin by slicing the figs, transfer the figs to a freeze dryer, and then run the machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. The freeze dryer will remove the moisture from the figs, leaving them crunchy and concentrated in flavor.

One advantage of freeze-drying is that it can preserve the nutritional content of the figs. This is because the low temperature and absence of oxygen prevent the breakdown of vitamins and minerals. However, it's important to note that freeze-dried figs may not be as flavorful as other dried figs and can be more expensive due to the specialized equipment required for the process.

For information on freeze-drying figs, check out the video below:

Rehydrating Figs

If you've accidentally over-dried your figs, don't worry – there are ways to bring them back to life. Over-dried figs can become hard and lose their flavor, but there are some simple techniques you can use to revive them and make them tender again.

One method is to soak the figs in warm water or a sweet liquid, such as honey or milk, for about 15-30 minutes. This can help to rehydrate the figs and restore their natural sweetness. Once they are rehydrated, you can use them in your favorite recipes or enjoy them as a snack.

Another method is to steam the figs by placing them in a steaming basket over a pot of boiling water for 5-10 minutes. This can help to soften the figs and restore their texture without adding any extra moisture. I would recommend trying this method first.

If you prefer to use the figs in baking recipes, you can also chop them up and add them to the recipe directly without rehydrating them. The moisture from the other ingredients can help to soften the figs as they bake, resulting in a tender and flavorful final product.

To prevent over-drying in the future, be sure to keep a close eye on the figs as they dry and remove them from the heat source as soon as they are dry to the touch.

What to Look for When Buying Dried Figs

When it comes to buying dried figs, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure that you are getting the best quality product.

Here are some tips for sourcing and buying dried figs:

  • Look for organic or pesticide-free options: While figs are rarely sprayed with chemicals, if possible, choose dried figs that are certified organic or pesticide-free. This can help to ensure that the figs are free from harmful chemicals and are produced in an environmentally sustainable way.

  • Check for mold and pests: While eating dried figs that I’ve purchased, I always check for mold and pests within them. By opening them at the location of the eye, I can clearly see if there is any gray or black mold that is quite often present. Sometimes, you may not see mold or pests, but you can definitely taste an unusual earthy flavor. That’s mold!

  • Choose whole figs, not chopped: When possible, opt for whole dried figs rather than chopped or diced figs. This can help to ensure that the figs are of a higher quality with the right moisture content and they have not been treated with preservatives or additives.

  • Store properly: Once you've purchased your dried figs, be sure to store them properly in an airtight container in a cool, dry place or in the refrigerator. This can help to extend their shelf life and prevent spoilage.

The History and Cultural Significance of Dried Figs

Dried figs have been enjoyed by humans for thousands of years and have a rich history and cultural significance. In ancient times, figs were considered a sacred fruit and were highly valued by many cultures for their medicinal and nutritional properties. In fact, figs were one of the first fruits to be cultivated and traded by humans, and they played a significant role in the development of early civilizations.

Dried figs have even been carbon-dated to a period over 12,000 years ago.

In many cultures, dried figs have been used as a traditional remedy for various ailments. For instance, in traditional Chinese medicine, figs were believed to help regulate digestion and promote overall wellness. In Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India, figs are considered a cooling food that helps to balance the body according to Paavani Ayurveda - In ancient Greece, figs were revered for their aphrodisiac properties and were associated with the goddess Aphrodite.

Dried figs also have a rich culinary history and have been used in various dishes and desserts around the world. In the Middle East, dried figs are a common ingredient in many traditional dishes, such as stuffed lamb and rice pilaf. In Greece, figs are often paired with yogurt or honey for a simple and delicious snack. In Italy, dried figs are a popular ingredient in desserts, such as fig and almond tarts.

Today, dried figs continue to be a popular and versatile food that can be enjoyed in a variety of ways.

Here are some of the many ways figs can be enjoyed in the kitchen:

Using Dried Figs in Cooking

Dried figs are a versatile ingredient that can be used in a wide range of sweet and savory dishes, making them a great addition to any pantry. Here are some creative ways to use dried figs in your cooking:

  • Salad: Add chopped dried figs to your favorite salad for a sweet and chewy texture. They pair well with leafy greens, nuts, and tangy dressings.

  • Oatmeal: Stir in some chopped dried figs into your morning oatmeal for a natural sweetener and added fiber.

  • Cheese board: Arrange dried figs on a cheese board for a sweet and savory contrast. They pair well with both hard and soft cheeses.

  • Granola: Mix in some dried figs with your homemade granola for a sweet and crunchy snack.

  • Meat dishes: Use dried figs to add sweetness and complexity to meat dishes, such as pork chops, chicken breasts, or lamb stew.

  • Baking: Use dried figs in baking recipes, such as cakes, muffins, or bread, for a natural sweetener and added texture.

  • Energy bars: Blend dried figs with nuts and other ingredients to make homemade energy bars for a healthy and convenient snack.

  • Chutney: Cook dried figs with spices and vinegar to make a flavorful chutney that pairs well with cheese, meat, or crackers.

Fig pizza made with the great Dominic Russo from Squares & Fare

Dried figs have so many uses in the kitchen. I hope this list inspires you the next time you have some lying around in your pantry.

The Health Benefits of Dried Figs

Dried figs are not only a tasty snack but also a nutritious one. They are a great source of dietary fiber, which can help to promote digestive health, regulate blood sugar levels, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. In fact, just one serving of dried figs (about 3-4 figs) can provide up to 20% of the recommended daily fiber intake.

In addition to their high fiber content, dried figs are also a good source of several essential vitamins and minerals. They are particularly high in potassium, which helps to regulate blood pressure and support heart health. Dried figs also contain calcium, magnesium, and iron, which are important for strong bones, muscle function, and oxygen transport in the blood.

Because of a fig tree’s incredible ability to search and find nutrients on the surface of the soil, figs and dried figs contain many of those nutrients along with hard-to-find trace minerals in each bite. Long-lived perennial food sources usually provide a higher amount of minerals to your diet.

Dried figs are also a rich source of antioxidants, which help to protect the body and feed your microbiome. They contain polyphenols like phenolic acids and flavonoids, which have been shown to have important health benefits. I can’t wait for more information to come to light that highlights the importance of a fig's antioxidant and polyphenol content.

Are There Dead Wasps in my Dried Figs?

There has been a lot of controversy in recent years over whether or not dried or fresh figs contain dead fig wasps. Fig wasps are a species of wasps that are very tiny and have a mutualistic relationship with fig trees and are responsible for pollinating them. While it's true that some figs may contain fig wasps, it’s likely that the figs that you’re growing at home are not in areas where the fig wasp (Blastophaga Psenes) is present.

In these cases, figs are typically self-pollinating and do not require the help of fig wasps nor are they present in your area. In the US, only warm parts of Southern and Northern California are where they are naturalized.

Even if fig wasps are present in some figs, it's important to note that the wasps are undetectable by the end of the ripening process of the fig. This means that any fig wasps that may have been present in the fruit would have already died and been broken down by the enzymes within the fig. As a result, it's highly unlikely that you would encounter a dead fig wasp when eating dried figs.

It's also worth noting that the presence of fig wasps in figs is not a health concern. In fact, fig wasps are an important part of an ecosystem and help to pollinate fig trees. While some people may find the idea of eating a fig with a wasp inside unappealing, it's important to remember that the wasps are an essential part of the fig's life cycle and are not harmful to humans.

You’re Now Ready to Dry Figs

These tasty treats have a rich cultural history and offer numerous health benefits, making them a great addition to your diet. With a variety of methods for drying figs, including the oven, dehydrator, sun, and refrigerator, you can choose the option that works best for you.

And if you accidentally over-dry your figs, don't worry – simple techniques like soaking or steaming can bring them back to life. With so many ways to enjoy dried figs in your favorite recipes, from salads and oatmeal to meat dishes and energy bars, they're a valuable and delicious addition to any pantry. So why not give it a try and enjoy the rich flavor and health benefits of dried figs today?

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Feb 25, 2023

So freaking excited about growing figs right now!

Ross the Fig BOSS
Ross the Fig BOSS
Feb 26, 2023
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I'm Ross, the "Fig Boss." A YouTuber educating the world on the wonderful passion of growing fig trees. Apply my experiences to your own fig journey to grow the best tasting food possible.