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What are Mission Figs?

By Shelby Miller
Updated May 16, 2024
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Mission figs are a type of the common fig fruit, Ficus carica, that was introduced to the United States in 1768. Alternately known as black mission figs or franciscanas, they were brought to the San Diego, California area from the Mediterranean region, where they originated on Spain’s Balearic Islands, and then planted northward along the coast of California by Franciscan missionaries establishing settlements there. They later became the most common kind of fig grown and sold in California, though they were eventually overtaken by the Calimyrna variety, which originated in Turkey and was introduced to California’s San Joaquin Valley in 1882.

Belonging to the Moricae family and genus Ficus, mission figs are a specific cultivar of the Carica species, the edible common figs. There are many varieties of common fig, best grown in dry, warm climates in places like California and Texas in the United States, or in Mexico and throughout Latin America. They also thrive near the Mediterranean Sea in Europe in countries like Italy, France, and Spain, and throughout Western Asia.

Fruit ranges in color from golden brown to green to black, and may be pink, red, or amber on the inside. Trees tend to proliferate very quickly and produce two crop cycles: the breba crop and the main crop. The breba is the early crop cycle, occurring in the spring and producing lower quality fruit, while the main crop comes in the fall.

In the United States, where they are popular as a commercial fig variety, Mission figs generate both a large breba crop and a mid-sized main crop. Mission fig trees, however, can be considered everbearing, meaning that they produce fruit virtually year-round, and they can grow to be quite large. These trees do best in climate hardiness zones 9 and up and are frost-sensitive, but they thrive under a variety of conditions, making them suitable for commercial growth.

Mission figs remain the most popular type of black fig grown in California and are purplish-black when ripe. Shaped similarly to a pear, they are smaller and slightly more elongated through the neck with a flat bottom. On the inside, the fruit is a pale strawberry color and is considered to be a high-quality variety for eating. They may be eaten fresh or dried, though if consumed fresh they must be refrigerated immediately and eaten within a few days. Mission figs are also commonly frozen or made into a jam, a popular offering at American farmers’ markets.

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Discussion Comments
By tigers88 — On Mar 22, 2012

How many different fig tree varieties are there? I feel like you almost always see mission figs but surely there are other kinds. I know that most fruits and veggies are more interesting and varied than the grocery store would like you to believe. I'm sure that figs are no different.

By jonrss — On Mar 21, 2012

I used to live in a home that had a black mission fig tree. Before I lived there I had never tried a fig before but by the time I left I loved them and had tried many fig based recipes.

I made fig pie, fig jam, chicken with figs, fig salads and on and on. In any given harvest season you will get lots and lots of figs. You can dry some of them but you have to make a real effort to eat them up or else you will end up with a lot of wasted fruit.

By ZsaZsa56 — On Mar 21, 2012

I love to eat dried mission figs. They are one of my all time favorite snacks and I could eat them everyday if they were not so expensive. As it is I have to kind of limit myself because I can easily open a new bag, start munching and realize that I have eaten then whole thing.

Luckily figs are a healthy snack and a great source of fiber. I don't feel so bad about snacking on figs because at least they are not cookies.

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