The fig tree, lat. Ficus carica or domestica, belongs to the family Moraceae. The fruit, Ficus carica or edible fig, belongs to a large family with up to 700 known species. The plant is one of the oldest useful plants of mankind and has its origin in the Mediterranean area.
The shrub or tree is a deciduous species and reaches a height between three and six meters. In plantation cultivation, the growth is kept artificially low to facilitate harvesting. The branches grow straight and close together. The leathery leaves are alternately arranged and their shape is reminiscent of fingers.
The plant makes little demands on its environment and grows in almost all soils. Too much moisture and frost, however, are a problem for the shrub. There are frost-resistant species in Germany that grow in sunny regions such as the Rhine Valley and the Lake Constance region. However, these are specially bred varieties that are fertilized by normal pollination to form an edible fruit. The figs grown in the Mediterranean region are pollinated differently, namely by a complex sequence. The so-called fig gall wasp helps to pollinate the flowers several times. With the help of these insects, three generations of figs are produced each year, with only the second generation producing edible fruits.
Todays main cultivation areas are in Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and Iran. The figs bloom up to three times a year - but flowers in the classical sense are not always visible. In interaction with the gall wasp, the pollen is transferred from one fig generation to the next. When the fruits are ripe, the harvest takes place from July to September, depending on the region and geographical location.
The ripe fruits are harvested by hand, shaking or mechanically. The latter is preferably done in plantation cultivation with up to 1300 trees per hectare and up to 22 tons of fresh fruit can be harvested. In order to guarantee a fresh quality, the figs are harvested while still firm, so that they can ripen on the way to the customer. Via suitable drying processes, the water content of the ripe fruit can also be reduced to a minimum to enable preservation. The fruit's own sugar content of more than 60% in dried fruits helps to achieve this.
Depending on the variety, the fruit contains between 30 and 1600 seeds, which are removed when the harvest is complete. For this purpose, the fruit is opened mechanically and the contained pulp with seeds is removed. The seeds are gently prepared by washing and if necessary fermentation processes. Afterwards a drying process can be carried out to prevent microbial infestation. The end product before pressing are brown round seeds, which have a nutty smell and taste.
The dry kernels are pressed using a cold pressing process in order to preserve the oil as gently as possible. Depending on the production process, 1kg of fig seeds can be obtained from approx. 15kg of ripe figs, which then provide approx. 200 ml of fig seed oil. In the literature an oil yield of approx. 14% is found. The oil has a yellow color.
Figs contain large amounts of D-glucose, which serves as an energy source for humans and the environment. The sweet taste is used, e.g. to produce dessert wines. But the fig fruit can also be found as an additive in cheese, for example.
The oil contains a high proportion of alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid (both about 25% each). In comparison: walnut oil has with 10% almost only half of linoleic acid. Together with the still contained oleic acid, these three oleic acids create a proportion of almost 70%. Phenols with antioxidant effects have also been found.
The oil is mainly used in cosmetics and pharmacy. The benefits of the antioxidative substances: in hair and body care products the oil is supposed to provide a protective effect. Skin aging could thus be reduced. Fatty acids also play a role here, as they reduce the drying out of the skin.
The oil should be stored cool, dry and protected from light.
If the ripe fig is stored for too long, it can cause mold. This leads to the formation of so-called mycotoxins, harmful secondary metabolites. If the fig seeds or the oil are used as food, the limit of the mycotoxin regulation must be kept.
The leaves of the fig tree contain furanocoumarins which can cause a phototoxic reaction. This must be distinguished from the photoallergic reaction. Together with ultraviolet light, the furanocoumarins are activated and cause the clinical picture of photodermatitis.
In literature, the fig tree stands for prosperity. The legend has it that the leaves were used to protect the naked bodies of Adam and Eve during their expulsion from paradise.