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The Best Tasting Fig Varieties

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

Want to grow the best-tasting figs? Let this blog post act as an introduction to how special figs can be. If you taste one of these varieties when picked perfectly ripe, I promise that you'll want to plant your own fig tree.

For a video format and a greater explanation of this blog post, check out my video below:


Black Madeira is probably the most notorious fig variety among hobbyist fig growers in the United States. It's a fig variety that originally was introduced to hobbyists by the USDA. The USDA houses a fig collection at UC Davis in California and many years ago the USDA offered cuttings from their collection to hobbyist growers.

Starting around 2008, online fig communities rose in popularity like Figs4Fun (F4F) & Gardenweb (which is now called Houzz). F4F was the first community dedicated to fig growers from all over the world that was created by Jon Verdick.

The growers of these communities tried the majority of the figs that the USDA imported and are housing in their collection. Black Madeira was the best tasting among them according to many hobbyists and so as the hobbyist community grew, it's only common sense that Black Madeira would grow with it in fame.

If there is ever something written on the history of fig trees in the United States, Black Madeira must be mentioned. Many years later it is still considered one of the best-tasting varieties of figs and today, it’s even being grown commercially in Fresno, California by a grower there named Brian Melton. I hope to join him on this path someday.


It is the standard fig variety when considering flavor that all other varieties must be compared to. Why? It has an indescribably complex berry flavor and high sweetness even when it's not pollinated. While there is only one Black Madeira from the USDA, there are many similar figs with different names.

Not all of these are synonyms (probably very few have the same exact genetics), but what is certain is that there's a reason that this "style" of fig can be found so abundantly.

Like most varieties that have survived for 100s of years and can still be found today, there was probably a good reason why someone or generations of people took time to preserve them.

Figs like the Bourjassotte Noire or Brogiotto Nero are commercial figs grown all over the world that have a very similar ‘feel’ to Black Madeira. Not only do they look somewhat similar, but they have very similar complexity and sweetness.

Baud a well-respected French fig nurseryman popularized a strain of Bourjassotte Noire called Noire de Barbentane. He claims that it’s a 2 week earlier and potentially more rain-resistant Bourjassotte Noire with just as much flavor.


Italian 258 is another fig with a similar ‘feel’. This is one of the many fig varieties that was imported by Todd Kennedy from Italy. Italian 258 is almost as popular as the Black Madeira believe it or not if you consider its synonym Genovese Nero from a fig grower named Adriano in Canada.

I really enjoy it because it performs better in cooler climates than Black Madeira does. I258 has the ability to taste a bit better even at lower ripeness, which gives it a huge edge in the cold fall weather when this fig is normally ripening for me.


Calderona is another similar fig that was made popular by Monserrat Pons. A very valuable variety and so far is my favorite of this style of fig for its better performance than the rest of them mentioned so far in humid conditions.


Colonel Littman’s Black Cross is rising to fame along with these types. As it’s one of the few of these Black Madeira types that can perform well in the Southern United States’ humid conditions. Originating in Gainsville FL, it has also gained some unique advantages through adaptation. However, like the Smith fig, it does require a lot of sunlight hours and intensity to set the fruit buds reliably.

Other figs in this style are Nuestra Senyora del Carmen, Black Tuscan, Mario's #50, Figo Preto, Pota de Caval, Violetta, Black Portuguese, Maderia Island Black & Bordisot Negra Rimada.


If Black Madeira is the king of figs, the Coll de Damas is the queen of figs. It translates to, “a lady's neck” for its long and distinctive neck. That's one of the best ways to identify it.

While the flavor of the Coll de Damas is quite complex, the texture is what I believe puts it in the category of a fig variety that must be grown by every fig grower. The texture is very thick. Like pancake batter. It's more than just a thick jam that you can find in a jar at the supermarket. It's got something extra and in my opinion, it's the best eating experience that you can find in Ficus Carica.


There are a few names for the Coll de Damas. There's Blanc, Noire & Grise. Each has pretty much the same eating experience, but with a different skin color. How amazing is that?

It's also a commercial fig particularly popular in Spain and therefore there are a number of similar figs beyond Blanc, Grise & Noire.

  • One of which is Gegantina. It’s a consistently larger Blanc.

  • There's also Mutante, which is a mutation of Noire that shows rimada-like striping when the fig is ripening.

  • There's also Roja, which by most accounts is a synonym of Noire.


While each of these is quite similar and will give you that amazing eating experience, they do all show different observable characteristics. Most of them I find to be rather unhealthy and until you plant them in the ground and rejuvenation prune them, they'll be quite finicky trees throughout their lifetimes.

Once you can establish something very healthy in the ground, cuttings or air layers can be taken from these trees to produce a healthy, vigorous, and productive copy. Because of how amazing the Coll de Dama figs are, I've decided to champion the task of finding a similar fig to the Coll de Damas without the difficulties attached.

It's hard to say at this point which variety will prevail (or maybe I'll even just stick with a healthy Noire for example), but certainly, a nice alternative so far seems to be a variety called De La Roca.

To this day I think it's still the best eating experience I've had in a fig. The tree grows well, is productive, is healthy, and seems to perform better in humid conditions. It can dry on the tree a bit easier than the other Coll de Dama figs and perhaps it also has a shorter hang time.


Other promising options are Sarda, Coll de Frare & La Borgeoise. La Borgeoise is certainly a great performer, but the skin tends to absorb water during times of rain.

Smith


It's not just me who called Black Madeira the king and Coll de Dama the queen. I didn't come up with that, but I do think if that's what we're going with, Smith has got to be the Prince.

Why? It combines the cakey or pastry-like texture of the Coll de Dama figs with the flavor complexity of Black Madeira. In a way, it's kind of like their baby. The best part is.. you can grow this fig almost anywhere while its ‘parents’ are very challenging when grown in most climates in the United States.

Smith ripens mid-season, is reliable, very productive, vigorous, healthy, and even has a somewhat short hang time. The skin is its best quality though as it rivals Celeste in its ability to shed water.


At the first drop of rain, Black Madeira can split. Likely due to its flat shape. Smith's shape isn't perfect like the Coll de Damas are, but the skin doesn't act like a sponge.

Like Celeste, the skin is like a waterproof jacket. The water hits the skin and slides right off. How incredible is that? Other figs will absorb that water right into the fruit ruining the quality and causing a fast expansion resulting in cracking or splitting.

Other figs with a similar eating experience to Smith are Bourjassotte Noire, Violet Sepor & Socorro Black. These are far from synonyms, but certainly, they have a thicker texture and a similar complexity to them. Spectacular in their own right and probably are worth growing alongside Smith.


I was very interested this year to learn that Texas BA-1 is a fig very similar to Smith, but it's slightly hardier. That's Smith's downfall. It's notorious as being one of the least hardy fig varieties.




This is another commercial fig that is widely grown and therefore has many names. I dubbed it the "Black Madeira killer" a number of years ago when this fig had almost no popularity in the United States.

You can find that write-up on the blog, here:

Today it is gaining traction, but growers still do not understand the importance of this fig. It is just as tasty if not tastier than Black Madeira. De La Senyora (Hivernenca) in particular is the fig that I'm referring to. It is a much better performer in cooler weather when most of us will be ripening these late varieties.

With only a 3 or 4-day hang time, you can consistently ripen a high-quality fig. Black Madeira for example, has a 6 or 7-day hang time in my climate. That's quite the difference.

There are other figs of this "style" with different names. One is called Moro de Bou. Others are Verdal Longue, Hivernenca, Labritja, Coll de Dama Cuitat, Bergunya & Ouriola.



Hative is another fig that the USDA imported. I don't exactly know where it comes from. Obviously, it has a French name, so you could conclude that it's of French origin, but frequently the true origin of fig varieties can be quite unclear. Hative translates to, “early.”

I liken it to Smith, but with a cherry flavor profile. It's not quite as cakey, but overall it's exquisite. The berry flavor is stronger, and the hang time is a bit longer, but the tree requires less sunlight to produce fruit and like Smith, It’s a superior fig in rainy or humid climates.




A fig grower's paradise. For some reason, you can find a number of Paradiso figs that were named by fig growers who have their own version of the Paradiso fig that is different from the others.

I guess you could say that it's their version of Paradise and somehow almost all of them actually are. Some are definitely similar to each other and most can be easily mistaken as an Adriatic type fig that's mentioned below due to their similar coloration, but I can assure you that they're quite different.

As a whole, their eating experience is like the Coll de Damas, with a slightly different thickness, and an almost equally amazing pulp.

Paradiso from Baud still remains at the top of my list in terms of its eating experience. Some of the figs that I’ve harvested from that tree have been absurdly good.


Another Paradiso that I'm growing is from an Italian commercial grower named Siro. Siro has what I and others believe to be the original Paradiso depicted in Gallesio's drawings. Gallesio traveled throughout Italy describing and drawing many varieties of fruit. Not just figs. Paradiso was one of them and clearly was a classic variety in Italy.


Today the varieties that Gallesio depicted of Ficus Carica still live on today and are pretty well preserved among hobbyists. They're an important part of Italian culture.

White Adriatic



Like the Coll de Damas, Hivernenca, Black Madeira & Bourjassotte Noire, this is another commercial fig. It's almost like commercial growers around the world know something about figs!

White Adriatic was its name when it was grown commercially in California. Along with Black Mission, it was one of the first to be grown in the United States for this purpose.

As I've said before, commercial figs and figs with significant importance usually have many names. The problem with having so many names is that many hobbyist growers confuse the name Adriatic with other fig varieties. Just because another fig has green skin and red flesh, doesn't mean that it's an Adriatic fig.

It has to match the original White Adriatic that was grown commercially. Some of you may know the names Green Ischia, Verte, JH Adriatic, Battaglia Green, White Madeira #1 & Strawberry Verte.

Each has its own different observable characteristics due to epigenetics, but it should be known that there are at least 25-30 names for the White Adriatic.

The eating experience is if you took Black Madeira and combined it with Paradiso. It is superb.

For more on the Adriatic types, I wrote a detailed post, here:


You're now a Fig Variety Expert


While taste is subjective and everyone has preferences, I believe that these fig varieties cannot be overlooked. Especially when pollination is not considered. These standard fig varieties are a great starting point and without them, I fear that you'll be missing a critical piece of knowledge when it comes to how amazing figs can taste.

I encourage you to try many varieties that are in the different flavor categories as well. I've discussed the flavor profiles of figs here:

  1. Addtionally, I think it's an unfortunate reality that you pretty much have to be in the complex berry category of flavor profiles to make it on the list of "must-try" fig varieties.

  2. Most fig growers who have tried 20 or more fig varieties will tell you that the figs with complex berry flavors are the best tasting. And for good reason. Like the name says, they're just typically more complex.

  3. However, I would highly recommend that you try some varieties in the other flavor profiles. There are certainly some gems that are much different than the style of fig that most fig growers love.


Others to be considered: Joualle Noir, Feather River, Angelito, Verdolino, Del Sen Juame Gran, Verde Passo, Cavaliere, Paratjal, Martinenca, Bordissot, Sofeno Preto, Lampeira 1, Longue d'Aout, Burgan Unk, Ravin de Calce, Ischia Black (USDA), Green Michurinska, Campaniere, Verdino del Nord (VR), Thermalito, Castel Trosino #48, Gros Monstreuse, Grise de St. Jean, Ponte Tresa, Rossellino, Verdolino, Vagabond, Zaffiro, Barbillone & many more...
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2 Comments


Fab P
Fab P
Sep 16, 2023

Hi. Superbe article! I am in Zone 4B and been growing Chicago Hardy in container for the last 2 years. As soon as I can they go outside. I'd like to grow 5 different better tasting fig varieties (with Chicago, I do not get the wow effect)... it looks like I cannot grow most of the ones mentioned in this article...

So my question: which 5 varieties would you advise me to grow in my zone with still very decent/good tasting profiles? thank you

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jponcedarheights
jponcedarheights
Nov 24, 2022

Your articles( blogs) are always filled with so much information, but this one is overstuffed😁 and will be read and re read many times. Thank you for sharing such knowledge that most hobbyists will never be able to achieve, since very few will be able to grow all the varieties you do.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.
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