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What Do Figs Taste Like? The Different Types of Fig Trees & Their Flavor Profiles

Updated: Jan 12



Figs are among the best-tasting fruits you can grow right in your backyard. Trust me, I've tasted and grown them all, but don't just take my word for it. Many cultures have loved and fought over them for 1000s of years. Although figs have been used in countless culinary ways, when you eat a perfectly ripened fig right off the tree, there's nothing quite like it. The fig is nature's pastry. They're like eating a scoop of jam right off the tree wrapped in the perfect accompaniment, its skin. 

So...

What Do Figs Taste Like?


Figs taste like a mix of dried fruits, melons, berries, and sugar flavors. I've eaten figs that taste like raspberries, strawberries, or cherries, while others taste like dates, raisins, brown sugar, or even honey.

  • Don't peel the skin! A fig's skin can have notes of bitterness, spice, nuttiness, coconut, and other figgy sweet flavors.

  • Each variety uniquely blends these components, creating a different eating experience. There are 1000s of varieties to choose from and Ficus Carica offers a huge genetic diversity of flavors and textures much more than you'll find in other fruits.

  • Harvest wisely! When underripe, fig varieties taste similar to each other and all have a dominant unpleasant melon and resinous flavor, while ripe figs offer the fullest expression of their impressive and diverse flavor compounds.


What to make sure you taste your figs this growing season? Avoid these 11 mistakes new fig growers commonly make!



For additional fig-related information like this, consider subscribing to the Fig Boss monthly newsletter at the top of the page.



Fig Taste: More on the 4 Basic Components



  • Dried Fruit: Figs have a base "figgy" flavor similar to what you'll find in dried fruits like raisins, dates, persimmons, or dried figs. This dried fruit flavor intensifies as the fig ripens and dries on the tree. This flavor is particularly prominent within "Sugar" figs.

  • Melon: When harvesting under-ripe figs, a melon-like & resinous flavor is often present. The resin flavor fades after ripening and the subtle melon flavors can become overpowered. However, some varieties (especially "Honey" figs) will retain a strong melon profile as they ripen.  

  • Berry: Aside from melons, an additional fruitiness can be found in figs. This fruit flavor is often referred to by the term "Berry." The fruitiness can range from a mild fruit punch, grape, mulberry, or strawberry to something stronger such as raspberries, kiwi, or currants.

  • Sugar: Like most fruits, the fig produces its own nectar that's mistaken as honey because it's often found solidified at the eye. Each fig variety produces a nectar with a unique sugar flavor. Some taste like honey (and even resemble it), caramel, cotton candy, or other sugar flavors.


Light Figs Vs. Dark Figs


In the vast world of fig genetics, there are 1000s of varieties in existence. To new growers that may seem daunting, but to experts, that’s where part of the beauty within Ficus Carica lies.

Here's what I’ve learned after tasting hundreds of fig varieties:

  • Each fig variety tastes different, however, its flavor is usually correlated with its flesh color. For example, red-fleshed figs usually taste like berries, and amber or yellow-fleshed figs usually fall under a flavor profile called, "honey figs."

  • Mistakenly, uneducated fig enthusiasts believe that a fig's skin color determines the flavor. I've often heard that there are only white or black figs. Or there are only light figs or dark figs, and they have a preference between the two. What they don't know is how vast the genetic diversity of fig trees is.


This might just be the biggest myth surrounding fig trees and if I could educate the public on one thing, it would be that. To learn more on this topic, watch the video below.


Fig Flavor: The Profiles


Remember, each fig variety has a unique eating experience, but there are some common characteristics among varieties. To help new growers choose the right fig variety for their taste preferences, experienced fig growers have grouped similar tasting varieties into what are called flavor profiles, providing helpful guidelines for selecting a variety that suits your preferences.

Keep in mind, that the flavor profiles are not strict rules, as factors like growing techniques, pollination, and environmental conditions can all influence the taste of a fig. Consider them as general suggestions to help you make a more informed decision when choosing which fig varieties to grow.

Some growers have created personalized flavor profiles, but consensus has led to 3 predominant fig flavor profiles: Sugar, Honey, and Berry. Click on each photo below to see a full breakdown of the varieties within each flavor profile.

Sugar: A fig with melon undertones, dried fruit “figgy” flavor, and often unique sugars.


Honey: Higher in melon flavor, accompanied by honey-like sugars and nectar.


Berry: Figs with pronounced berry or other fruity flavors.


Shoutout to Tony of MountainFigs.com for personal inspiration on this topic.

Variations and Combinations: More Types of Figs


Over time I’ve created an additional 6 flavor profiles each with variations and combinations of the 3 main flavor profiles to create intriguing hybrids. Click on each photo below to see a full breakdown of the varieties within each flavor profile.

  • Sugar Berry: A sugar fig at its core, featuring mild and fruity berry flavors like grape, strawberry, or fruit punch.



  • Melon Berry: An intensified melon fig delivering a hard-to-find combination of melon and berry flavors.



  • Cherry: An often acidic berry-centric fig with an overwhelming and robust cherry flavor.



  • Complex Berry: The pinnacle of complexity, these figs exhibit strong berry flavors such as raspberry, blackberry, currant, or honeyberry.



  • Sugar Honey: Straddling the line between sugar and honey figs, typically uniquely sweet with robust honey, dried fruit, and melon undertones.



  • Fruity Honey: A profile where honey takes precedence, accompanied by fruity berry flavors.



Fig Texture: Don’t Overlook It


Beyond having a wide variety of flavors – the genetic diversity of figs brings a variety of textures to the table as well. From fluffy clouds to dense meatiness and even buttery pastries, the diversity of textures comes from a mix of their skin, nectar, seeds, and something called achenes.

To learn more about the wonderful variation of textures within figs, I covered that in a separate article, here.

To completely understand what a fig tastes like, I need to highlight two components of a fig’s texture, the skin, and the nectar. Both of which contain unique flavor compounds.

The outside of a fig, known as its skin, comes in various thicknesses and textures, while also adding extra flavors. I briefly mentioned earlier in the article that a fig's skin might have notes of bitterness, spice, nuttiness, coconut, or figgy flavors. That’s why I can’t recommend peeling your figs. There’s an extra flavor component you can miss completely!


One common question I frequently get is,

Is A Fig’s Skin Edible?


Yes, you can eat the skin of a fig!

However, depending on the texture and fig variety you're growing, the skin can sometimes affect the overall eating experience. I prefer a fig variety with a skin quality that either blends seamlessly with the pulp or contrasts with it, creating an interesting and unique mouthfeel. A friend of mine, Dan Foster, loves figs with chewy skins. I’m in the same camp.

For example:

  • A fig type like Azores Dark has an almost nonexistent, very thin skin blending with the pulp.

  • LSU Tiger and Black Madeira, when fully ripe, have a delightfully chewy and thick skin that contrasts with the pulp, similar to a slipskin grape. This creates two different textures when you take the first bite.

Fig Honey AKA Fig Nectar or Fig Syrup


A fig's nectar is a sweet liquid made with carbohydrates. Fig growers frequently mistake it for honey, but remember, only bees make honey. When a fig is full of nectar, it can drip out through the fruit's skin or eye, sharing the same appearance as honey when it solidifies.


Just like other variations we've talked about, the nectar can be different too. Some figs have thicker or looser nectar, and the quantity also changes, affecting the texture. But here's a surprise: the flavor can also vary. Different figs might have nectar that tastes like brown sugar, white sugar, honey, caramel, agave, and more!



For example:

  • A fig called Longue d'Aout has a cotton candy-flavored nectar when grown in dry soil.

  • Sweet Joy tastes like marshmallows.

  • Burgan Unk or Moscatel Preto have caramel-flavored syrup.


How to Harvest Better-Tasting Figs


The Basics:


Choosing the right variety is key: Forget supermarket figs, choose a variety known for its delicious taste, but remember taste depends on your climate and the fig's genetics.



Patience is a virtue: Don't pick them too early! Let your figs fully ripen and enjoy their complex sweetness. Young trees also need time to produce the best fruits.



Sun, soil, and stress: Proper sunlight maximization through training, staking, and pruning will increase your fig tree’s carbohydrate production through photosynthesis.



Beyond the Basics - Flavor-Boosting Techniques:


Pollination: Dramatically improves flavor (especially in some varieties), but requires additional effort and may increase splitting risk



Refrigerator drying: Cut figs in half and place them skin down on a tray. Place them in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks. This slow dehydration creates a jammy interior and semi-dried exterior, like hoshigaki persimmons, intensifying flavor and offering a unique, melt-in-your-mouth experience. No oven or dehydrator is needed.



Dry soil: Drier soil stresses your fig tree, concentrating sugars for intense sweetness and boosting flavor compounds for a bolder flavor.



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Clicking on the Complex Berry picture near the top does not bring up any information on this category. Also the title itself, “Complex Berry”, isn’t linked to more description.

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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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