It is estimated that there are over 700 varieties of figs around the world, which is not surprising, since it is one of the oldest trees to be cultivated by humans for its edible fruit. In point of fact, the fruit is actually an inverted flower, but since it looks and tastes like a fruit, it is referred to as a fruit by convention. The biology behind figs is actually quite interesting, since the trees have some unique requirements which can also make them very challenging to grow.
There are a number of ways to think about different varieties of figs. Some botanists like to break them down by the way in which they are pollinated. Using these criteria, there are four main divisions. The first type is a Caprifig, which produces pollen, but no edible fruit. However, Caprifigs host the special wasps which are needed to pollinate the next two divisions, Smyrnas and San Pedros.
Smyrna figs are entirely dependent on Caprifigs for fertilization, while San Pedros produce two annual crops, one with the assistance of Caprifigs and one without. Finally, the Common Fig is self pollinating, and many edible varieties fall within this group. The confusing requirements of different figs trees were a source of frustration to cultivators for thousands of years, since people did not initially understand why sometimes the trees fruited and sometimes they didn't.
Consumers often divide the fruit into green to yellow and black varieties. The Adriatic is a classic example of a green fig, while Mission figs from California are black. Many of these varieties can be dried for later consumption, and they have a wide range of flavors, although all of them have the characteristic dense texture which consumers associate with figs. Different cultivars may also yield different fruit, depending on where they are grown, which can be maddening and confusing for growers and consumers.
Among the Smyrna figs, some of the most well known varieties are Calimyrnas, Marabouts, and Zidis. These types are typically grown so that they can be dried, and they have large, crunchy seeds. San Pedro varieties include King, Lampiera, and San Pedro figs. The King is a popular variety, with a pale green skin and rich maroon flesh. Lampiera figs, on the other hand, tend to have more reddish streaks on their bodies, with more pale flesh.
Among the common figs, some of the most common are Celestes, Brown Turkeys, Missions, Crunswicks, and Adriatics. These run the gamut in size and flavor, from small brownish-purple Celestes to big, sweet, green Adriatic figs. Adriatics are especially popular because their trees are extremely productive.
Consumers who enjoy figs should remember to drink lots of water with them, as the delectable fruits can cause stomach upset. Water helps to dilute the natural oxalates in the fruit, making them easier on the digestion, kidneys, and liver. In addition to tasting rather nice, they are also high in fiber, potassium, and manganese, making them a reasonably healthy food.