Tuesday, June 10, 2014

You Sure You Want Figs...?

Sometimes what we think we know about a certain fruit can be so wrong. After reading this article from KnowledgeNuts about the fig, you'll see what I mean!

The Disturbing Truth About Figs
By S. Grant on Sunday, June 8, 2014

If you always thought your childhood friends were pulling your leg when they told you figs were full of dead insects, it turns out they were right and you were wrong. Indeed, figs do contain digested wasps, which become trapped inside the fruit during pollination. Without this gross and deadly cycle, neither the fig tree nor the wasp could reproduce.

Figs are sweet, chewy, healthy, and yes, they do contain the digested remains of dead wasps. How did the wasps get in there? And why, if this knowledge exists, are figgy baked goods still flying off store shelves? The bizarre truth has to do with reproduction.

The whole fig-wasp relationship boils down to the fact that neither of them are very efficient reproducers; they just found an unusual way to help each other. The fig “fruit” is actually an inverted flower known as a syconium. But, because it’s inverted, most pollinating insects just can’t get to the pollen. Without pollinators, the fig tree wouldn’t bear fruit or seeds and would fail at its fundamental purpose: to produce offspring. Luckily, there is one insect, the fig wasp, that’s figured out a way to travel into the syconium and consequently pollinate the plant. Unfortunately for the wasp, the journey into the fig is a one-way trip.

Still, it isn’t all bad news for fig wasps. As mentioned, these wasps are inefficient reproducers. They need a very specific environment in which to grow and feed their larvae. It just so happens the inside of the fig is the perfect wasp nursery. So, the female wasp will travel into the fig through a tiny passage known as the ostiole. The only problem is the ostiole is so narrow the wasp’s wings and antennas are torn off as she moves down the passage, which means she’s never getting out of there. Nevertheless, this kamikaze mission has enabled her to find the ideal place to lay and nurture her eggs.

But wait, how was the fig pollinated if the wasps can only ever get inside one fig flower? Well, once the eggs are hatched, there are a bunch of male and female baby wasps. After mating, the males spend all of their short existence tunneling through the fig, so the females will have an escape route when they are fully developed. Once a female flies out, she carries a bit of pollen with her and delivers it to whatever fig she flies into next. Of course, that’s also the last fig she’ll ever crawl into. And, to complicate matters further, if she enters a “female” syconium (figs have both male and female flowers) she won’t find the perfect egg-laying ground that she’s after (as in the male syconium) and instead will get lost and eventually die in a long stylus. Although she wouldn’t be able to lay her eggs, she would have successfully pollinated the fig tree.

So now to the big question: Does this mean every time we eat a fig we’re consuming bits of suicidal female wasps and her dead male offspring? Kind of, but not really. Figs have an enzyme called ficin that breaks down the deceased wasps into protein, which become part of the ripened fruit. Nothing of the actual wasp body remains. The crunchy parts of the fig fruit are actually seeds and not leftover wasp pieces.

If you still can’t stomach eating something that was once part-wasp, there are some varieties of self-pollinating figs (usually for home growers) that don’t even involve wasps. Either way, we’ll bet you never look at a fig the same again.

I'm one of those folks that only eat figs in something like fig newtons, and I may have lost my taste for them after reading this. Way more information than I really needed to know.

Coffee out on the patio this morning. Figs anyone?


Sixbears said...

Knowing more about figs doesn't make them any less tasty in book. In fact, some fig bars would go nicely with a hot cup of coffee.

Chickenmom said...

I'm with Sixbears. I don't care - fig newtons are good!

Mamahen said...

Hmmmm.......I'll probably have to give them up for awhile lol give my weary mind time to allow that image to fade :)))

Momlady said...

My fig tree got hit hard with the last frost we had so a friend and I cut it down (it was taking over the garden anyway). I love figs so the decision was hard. Just think of all the protein you get! And now there are multiple green leaves growing from the stumps!

texasann said...

Bubba -
I never did like figs or their newtons anyway, but cranberry? Now that's a newton of a different color ~ Yum-Yum!
Big hugs -

linda m said...

Ewwww!!! Think I'll pass on figs from now on unless it is in a Fig Newton. Just kidding haha. I like figs and just because I now know what is in them doesn't make them any less tasty. Fig bars will go great with my coffee this morning.

Dizzy-Dick said...

We much prefer dates over figs, now I know why (grin).

JO said...

My dad always had fig trees in his yard. I never cared for them unless they were the newton kind. Dad lived to be 92 so there must be something good about them.

Nice to join in early this morning.

HermitJim said...

Hey Sixbears...
Lots of folks feel the same way! Fairly popular fruit, I think.

Thanks for com9ing by today!

Hey Phyllis...
Like I told Sixbears, many folks feel the same way.

Thanks for the visit this morning.

Hey Mamahen...
I can understand that. Let the image fade a bit, then try them again!

Thanks for stopping by today!

Hey Momlady...
The more green shoots the better, right? Won't be long you'll have another fresh crop of figs!

Thanks for coming over today!

Hey Sis...
I didn't know you liked the cranberry that much! Info I'll have to file away for future use, I reckon.

I hope the foot is doing OK since you tried to break it the other day! Gotta be careful at your age...!

Thanks for the visit this morning!

Hey Linda M...
I say let's eat the newtons anyway! No need to be picky, ya know?

Thanks for stopping by!

Hey Dizzy...
I guess that dates would be a good choice. Haven't found much about them yet, but I'll let you know if I do!

Thanks for coming over this morning!

Hey Jo...
I reckon that if the figs had anything to do with his long life, they must be good.

Thanks, sweetie, for coming over this morning!

Felinae said...

I'm allergic to figs, so I'm good. :) That was interesting to learn though.

Have a good day!

Cathy Testa said...

My God - What an amazing post - thank you for writing this so clearly. I learned something new about figs today and will share!! Cathy T