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Are There Really Dead Wasps in Figs?

Have you ever heard of the relationship between a fig and a wasp? No, this isn’t a joke. The sweet, edible fruit found in jams, cookies, and recipes has a unique pollination method.

Perhaps you’ve heard the rumors that there are dead wasps inside them. Well, it turns out that it’s more than a rumor. 

Today we’ll explore the fig-wasp relationship and look at the figs’ history, health benefits, and ways to prepare them.

Let’s check it out!

What the Heck Is a Fig Wasp?

Also called a fig insect, a fig wasp is of the Agaonidae family. Approximately 900 species of tiny wasps are responsible for pollinating the world’s 900 species of figs.

Each fig species has a specific wasp species to pollinate it. Conversely, each species of wasp pollinates only one species of fig. Therefore, neither organism can exist without the other.

The fig wasps mature from eggs deposited inside the flowering structure of the fig. Inside this structure, called a syconium, are the individual flowers. The flower develops a gall-like system instead of a seed. 

Male wasps, which are blind and wingless, emerge and search out galls that contain a female. Once found, he mates with her before she has even hatched. 

The male then dies, having spent his entire life within the fig. Next, the female emerges to deposit her eggs in a second fig. As the female leaves, she passes male flowers and emerges covered with pollen. 

The female fig wasp has a life span as short as two days. During this time, she flies into the forest to fertilize another fig and deposit another generation of fig wasps.

Sliced figs on table with wasp on top
Each fig is the result of a wasp that pollinated it.

What Is a Fig?

Figs are actually inverted flowers. Each hollow ball of vegetal tissue is lined with hundreds of tiny buds that bloom inside the pod. Although commonly called a single fruit, one fig is multiple fruits.

A fig plant is a small deciduous tree or large shrub that grows 23 to 33 feet tall. It has smooth white bark and large leaves with three to five deep lobes.

The fruit, shaped like a teardrop, is typically one to two inches long. Figs have green skin that may ripen toward purple or brown and sweet soft pink flesh with lots of crunchy seeds. The milky sap of the green parts is an irritant to human skin. 

Fresh figs are in season from late summer to early autumn. They tolerate seasonal frost and can be grown in hot summer climates.

They’re one of the earliest domesticated crops. In fact, archaeologists have found evidence that people grew fig trees 11,400 years ago. 

The finding proves that figs were cultivated a thousand years before humans grew crops such as wheat, barley, and legumes in the Middle East.

Commonly known as the fig, Ficus carica L. originated in northern Asia Minor. The Greeks and the Romans spread the fruit throughout the Mediterranean region. 

In 1520, Spanish Franciscan missionaries brought the fig to southern California, leading to the variety known as the Mission fig. There is evidence that China and England also had the fig by this time. 

Pro Tip: Have you heard the buzz? This is How To Get Rid of Hornets & Yellowjackets.

Do All Figs Have Wasps in Them?

These days, most fig varieties from grocery stores and farmers’ markets in the US don’t require pollination. Mission, Sierra, Celeste, Adriatic, Kadota, and the Brown Turkey fig can all self-pollinate. 

However, the Calimyrna, which has yellow-green skin and is typically sold dried, requires fig wasps for pollination. There’s no way to tell from the outside, but if the fig contains seeds, fig wasps pollinated it.

Even the species that require pollination by fig wasps don’t contain insects by the time people eat them. The female fig produces an enzyme that completely digests the exoskeleton before hungry humans can take a bite. 

Despite their unique pollination and growth process, figs are vegan. Several vegan organizations widely accept this. Because the fruit has already absorbed the wasps before being harvested, you’re not eating a living creature.

To be clear, the crunchy bits are seeds, not wasp parts.

Organic figs and a glass of fig jam on a wood
Enjoy a delicious treat that is also full of vitamins and nutrients.

Are Figs Good For You?

Figs are associated with health and prosperity. In ancient times, figs were linked to Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture and fertility. 

Before sugar became popular, people commonly used figs to sweeten desserts. Today, many are turning back to figs to provide a healthier alternative.

Figs can reduce high blood pressure. One factor that leads to high blood pressure is a diet with too much sodium and not enough potassium. 

Figs are a potassium-rich food and can help correct that imbalance. Meanwhile, high levels of fiber in figs can help to flush excess sodium from the system.

They are an excellent source of prebiotics, which improve overall gut health. In addition, digestive issues, from constipation to diarrhea, can be relieved by the increased fiber of figs. 

Delicious Ways to Prepare Figs, No Wasps Needed!

Many of us first ate figs in cookies called Fig Newtons, but there are many ways to prepare this sweet fruit.

Some people are hesitant to eat them because of their relationship with wasps. However, some figs do not require wasps for pollination. 

Many varieties sold in stores are pollinated with hormones or can be self-pollinated. Some of these varieties of figs are Mission, Celeste, Kadota, and the Brown Turkey fig.

The best and easiest way to eat a fig is raw, with the skin and seeds intact. You can also remove the peels and scoop out the seeds.

You can also cook figs by baking, broiling, or grilling them. Our favorite recipes include sweet cakes, puddings, pies, savory cheese pairings, salads, and pizzas.

Figs have a high sugar content that pairs perfectly with similarly intense flavors. The sugar gives sweetness to savory dishes and a distinctive texture and aroma to sweets.

Ripe and juicy figs are ideal for homemade jams and tangy chutneys. Spread on toast or swirled into yogurt, you can make chutney to accompany a cheeseboard. Jams and chutney also make a great gift.

Pro Tip: Nobody wants fruit covered in bugs! Keep your figs fresh by using this guide on How to Easily Get Rid Of Fruit Flies.

A Uniquely Delicious Treat

As we’ve learned, figs are unique among fruits. From the way the fruit forms to the ancient method of pollination, they stand apart from the way other plants reproduce. 

Most of the figs in US stores were grown in California and Texas. You can find fresh figs throughout the summer months. Additionally, dried, canned, frozen figs, packaged fig paste, and jam are widely available all year. And don’t forget the ever-popular Fig Newtons!

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