Updated: Oct 18, 2022
What is a sugar fig?!
A sugar fig is the most simplified and basic version of what a fig is. It's sweet with
melon tones and some dried fruit flavor. There's no berry flavor whatsoever. As soon as you add some berry flavors to it, my personal preference is to categorize it differently and move it into a whole new flavor profile. Either it gets classified as a true berry fig like the Cherry, Melon Berry or Complex Berry flavor profiles OR it falls under the
Sugar Berry category. Sugar Berry in my opinion is typically slightly more complex than its Sugar counterpart. Those berry flavors can go a long way towards your overall fig experience, but that's not to say that Sugar figs, although basic and perhaps not a fan favorite are not complex. In fact, I think there's a huge misunderstanding that good intentioned fig growers have.
One of the best parts of a Sugar fig is its dried fruit or "figgy" flavor. I think it's what figs are meant to taste like. And before we were spoiled by these very complex berry figs, I think that's what most people knew. Not everyone had a Black Madeira in their backyard. In fact, most people in the US have either a Celeste or Brown Turkey in their backyard.
This dried fruit flavor is not very common in our foods and in my opinion tends to be quite overlooked. All wine snobs know that as a good red wine ages, the raisin flavors intensify. And by my standards, that's one of the best qualities in a well aged wine. It's also the best part about persimmons. If you've never had an American persimmon, you must try them and dry them. Especially if you enjoy dried fruits. And in general if you heavily consume dried fruits in the winter like I do, Sugar figs are the summertime reminder of what's to come this winter. The problem is... not all of the Sugar figs have such an intense dried fruit flavor. Especially fruits that are picked under ripe. Because once the fruit ripens on the tree and dries similar to how a red wine ages, those dried fruit flavors become more prominent. With a simple fig such as the Sugar figs, it's easier to notice that they're present. If you took a Little Ruby fig, which has the most dried fruit flavor of any variety I've come across at my Philadelphia area location, and added a strong berry flavor to it, I'm not sure you would recognize how amazing the dried fruit flavor within it is. And so.. I think that's the misunderstanding. Most growers are not ripening their figs long enough. We're also so enamored by berry figs.
Here are some of the varieties that you can classify as a Sugar fig:
First up is Celeste. Similar to how Dotatto is the classic Honey fig, Celeste is the classic Sugar fig variety. In fact, it was even called Sugar fig for many years and even to this day. It's a synonym of Celeste. In Condit's monograph, he describes the following: Malta (syns. Small Brown, Celeste, Celestial, Sugar, Blue Celeste, Celeste Violette). You can't be more of a Sugar fig than that.
Fortunately Celeste is getting more attention and my understanding of it has changed. Not every Celeste is created equal and while one may be that classic Sugar fig, others have a berry flavor and therefore I would not classify those as a Sugar fig. This year I reviewed a fig called "The One" and in my mind, this is an improvement on the classic Sugar fig called Celeste because of its concord grape flavor and much shorter hang time. Two commonly found classic Celeste Sugar figs are called LSU O'Rourke & LSU Improved Celeste (these were both bred by LSU to improve Celeste). But are all Improved Celeste figs that classic Sugar fig that I'm mentioning? Again.. Not all of the Celeste figs are created equal. Take LSU Tiger for example. You could consider LSU Tiger an improvement to Celeste, but I wouldn't classify LSU Tiger as a Sugar fig due to its added berry flavor. The point is.. we're getting a bit in the weeds here, but just know that this category of Sugar figs applies only to Celeste figs without that slightly more interesting added berry flavor.
Next up is Brown Turkey and depending on which Brown Turkey you have, there could be quite a difference in flavor and texture. All 3 Brown Turkey types tend to be categorized in the Sugar flavor profile, which only adds to the confusion and frequently even Celeste is sometimes called Brown Turkey by novices. The three types of Brown Turkey are English, California & Southern. Essentially these are the locations where each is prominent. Both the English and California versions have much left to be desired.
Brunswick - This is a brown pear shaped fruit that's easily identified by its long fingered leaves. It's probably one of the worst commonly grown figs. The skin acts like a sponge in rainy conditions and the flavor is poor. It can be a fair choice in very dry locations, but overall I would not recommend this fig to anybody. Another reason why Sugar figs get a bad reputation.
Osborne Prolific - This fig I ripened this season by the name of Godfather. A very common fig found in the US because it's hardy, reliable and when properly ripened, very tasty. The dried fruit flavors really come through on this one. Currently I am expanding my collection of sources of this fig to learn more about it.
Little Ruby - I've reviewed this fig on the blog: https://www.figboss.com/post/little-ruby-a-much-better-fig-than-i-originally-thought
It's quite good and in my opinion is easily one of the most reliably tasty figs I have. This fig dries very quickly and easily allowing that dried fruit flavor to really shine. I highly recommend this fig.
Other Sugar figs are:
Vern's Brown Turkey (yes there's another)
Finally we can wrap this blog post up with a new fig to that I'm growing called Aszalodo. I've been extremely impressed with it as it ripens very early and dries quickly. The shape is nice and so is the rain resistance, but the fig must be eaten somewhat dried for it to have a good flavor. This is where that dried fruit flavor comes in and the sugars intensify.