R&D: Figs: A New Twist on an Old World Fruit-- February 2011

Figs have a long tradition of being a health food. The early Olympians incorporated figs into their diets, and they were presented as laurels to the winners. In the Middle Ages, figs were given to soldiers to aid their strength and power in battle. In some Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures, figs are a symbol of abundance, fertility and sweetness.

Today, figs are found worldwide and have seeped into mainstream American culture. While figs often have been relegated to bakery products, the highly versatile fruit can be found in savory applications, such as sauces and condiments, stated Tom Payne, food technologist, California Fig Advisory Board, during his speech titled, " California Figs: Ancient Fruit, Contemporary Ingredient," given at Prepared Foods' 2010 R&D Applications Seminar-East. In the U.S., they recently have been spotted in newer applications, such as cheese, ice cream, truffles and chocolate bars.

Depending on their format, figs contribute different properties to prepared foods applications. Whole dried figs hold up well in long shelflife formulas; they have low water activity, so their moisture will not leach into the products. They help to add a chewy, consistent texture to products, as well as a desirable mouthfeel. They hold up well in mixing, showing fruit pieces, and easily accept coatings, such as chocolate and spices. Diced and pieced figs are available in custom sizes, and they are normally coated to keep the fruit flowing freely for easy integration; they can be used in bakery products, sauces, salsas, salads and oatmeal, and incorporated into cakes, cookies, breads and muffins. Fig paste is extrudable and spreadable, and it is available in custom consistencies for easy spreading and integration. This form easily picks up added flavors and spices, creating lasting fruit flavor.  "In 2010, we saw an increase of new savory fig products introduced worldwide," stated Payne.

"In Europe, Plus Supermarket chain launched a line of innovative fig mustards, and Lidi products launched a savory port fig chutney." In the U.S., Williams Sonoma introduced a full-on-flavor fig and red wine confit as a sandwich spread. More than 100 spicy and savory fig-containing new products were launched worldwide in 2010--around 12% of all new products monitored. "Although savory new products are about half as many as new sweet fig introductions, savory is on-trend, and the number is climbing," Payne said.

Ranked third in the world in fig production, California produces 100% of the U.S.'s dried figs. There are four varieties: Adriatic, Black Mission, Calimyrna and Kadota. California also produces about 98% of the country's fresh figs. The five fresh varieties are: Black Mission, Brown Turkey, Calimyrna, Kadota and Sierra. In addition to whole, diced and pieces, figs also come in paste, concentrate, freeze-dried, microwave-puffed, spray-dried juice concentrate, in syrup, stewed, pureed, frozen, seedless, powder and fresh forms. The powder form is especially useful in applications to increase fiber. The tan-colored, flavorful powder has a 2% moisture content and is easily incorporated into bakery mixes, instant beverages and pet foods.

California figs add value to the foods and beverages in which they are featured. Their production leaves a small carbon footprint, and they can be traced from orchard to production facilities. The country of origin, the U.S., is known for quality, food safety and a consistent supply. "California fig farmers value the sustainability of the soil, through improved cultural practices," said Karla Stockli, chief executive officer for the California Fig Advisory Board. "They also rely on nature's own food processor--the sun." pf
--Julia M. Gallo-Torres, Managing Editor

For more information:
California Fig Advisory Board ï Fresno, Calif.
559-243-86oo ï Tom Payne or Karla Stockli ï tpayne@tjpmd.com,
kstockli@californiafigs.com ï www.californiafigs.com