I can’t recall ever tasting a fresh fig during my childhood, but like many American kids of my generation, I was quite fond of a packaged cookie called Fig Newtons. Tender cake-like pastries with a chewy fruit filling, they were, in my opinion, far better than Oreos and other mainstream treats which were probably more popular with my peers.
Years later, the thought of fig cookies doesn’t resonate well with my own kids, who wouldn’t know a Fig Newton from a date-filled mamoul. They do, however, know the unique texture and flavour of a dried fig, as well as the sublime pleasure of indulging in ripe, fresh figs barely off the tree before they make their way into our home. Soft, incredibly sweet and juicy, this wonderful creation of Allah (SWT) simply can’t be outshone by the man-made sweets and confections which it may inspire.
Figs in the Qur’an
Figs are mentioned only once in the Holy Qur’an, but in a way in which Allah (SWT) compels us to contemplate the miraculous nature of this fruit: “By the Fig and the Olive…”(At-Tin:1). Adding further emphasis is the fact that this brief ayah is the opening line in a surah which bears the name of the fruit itself – “The Fig.” What is it about figs then, that makes them so worthy of our consideration? To explore this, we need to look beyond the ahadith, where the limited references to figs deal with the topics of trade and zakat.
Health Benefits of Figs
More than 600 years ago, Ibn Qayyim noted in The Prophetic Medicine that fresh figs are extremely nourishing, with the capability of cleansing the kidney and bladder and reducing toxins in urine. Dried figs in turn, he wrote, are beneficial to the nervous system and when consumed on an empty stomach with nuts, helpful in opening the alimentary tract.
Not only does modern science substantiate the fact that figs contain nutrients which offer the detox benefits mentioned by Ibn Qayyim, but it also confirms that the fibre, vitamins and minerals in figs do indeed contribute to overall health, including optimal functioning of the digestive and nervous systems as well as the eyes, kidneys and lungs.
Studies have shown figs to be a fruit which is notably high in antioxidants, dietary fibre (both soluble and insoluble) and essential fatty acids which help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Figs are an excellent source of B vitamins as well as vitamins A, C, E and K.
They are high in the minerals phosphorus, potassium, manganese, magnesium and iron. The extremely high sugar content (more than 50 percent) in figs makes them an excellent choice for restoring energy, particularly for athletes and those suffering from prolonged illness.
Figs in Traditional Medicine
In traditional medicine, figs have been used as a tonic and internal cleanser and to treat a variety of ailments including colds, sore throats, coughs and other respiratory conditions, digestive problems, constipation, kidney and urinary tract infections, skin conditions and wounds, weak sexual strength and even mental illness. They are believed to be useful in treating rheumatism, diabetes and stomach ulcers and the high potassium in figs has been proven helpful in keeping blood pressure down. Likewise, a high fibre intake has been shown to reduce men’s risk of heart attacks.
Why not, then, incorporate these powerhouse fruits into our diets?
Serves 2 to 4
This easy dessert recipe combines the exceptional health benefits and good flavour of two sunnah foods – honey and figs. Serve the figs plain or with a dollop of sour cream or ice cream. Or, offer the figs as a garnish over cakes, ice cream or a bowl of fresh berries.
• 4 fresh figs, cut in half lengthwise
• 4 tablespoons butter
• 4 tablespoons honey
• Cloves, cinnamon or other spices (optional)
1. Melt the butter with the honey in a skillet over medium heat. If desired, add sweet, aromatic spices such as clove or cinnamon to taste.
2. When the butter-honey syrup is bubbling, add the figs, cut-side down. Reduce the heat a bit and cook the figs until the bottoms are slightly brown and caramelised-looking. Remove from the heat and serve warm.
Christine (Amina) Benlafquih writes on varied topics including religion, food, health and culture. You can find more of her writing on the web at Moroccan Food at About.com (http://moroccanfood.about.com).