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Dates vs figs? Argh, do we have to choose?

Don’t worry, that’s not what this is all about. It’s more of an in depth look at both to get a better understanding of what they’re all about. In this post, we’re going to look at everything from health benefits and nutritional information, through to the different types of dates and figs you can buy in your local store.

So, enough of all this chatter, let’s get to it!

Are dates and figs the same thing?

This is probably the most commonly asked question, so let’s deal with it straight away.

In short, no, they’re not the same thing.

Despite many people thinking that dried figs are dates, or vice versa, they are actually completely different things altogether. In order to clear up any confusion, let’s take an in depth look at both before we go any further:

What are dates?

dates fruit on table

Nothing to do with romance (well, I could fall in love with date cake, but that’s beside the point), dates are the fruit of Phoenix dactylifera, more commonly referred to as the date palm.

These sticky, brown oblong fruits are extremely high in fructose, around 80%, which can cause many to raise an eyebrow when “healthy” recipes call for a large amount of them, but they’re clearly head and shoulders above refined sugars in terms of other nutritional benefits such as their mineral and vitamin content (more on that later).

Traditionally grown in Middle Eastern and North African countries, dates have been cultivated for centuries and play a huge part in many international cuisines. Today, common varieties like Deglet Noor and Medjool are also grown in the US and Mexico, with states such as Arizona, California, and Florida leading the way.

Dates are frequently mentioned in both the Bible and the Qur’an, and the date palm has taken on a symbolic role in many cultures. The tree even appears on Saudi Arabia’s coat of arms above two swords which represent the houses which formed the country we know today: the House of Wahab, and the House of Saud.

Saudi coin showing the country's coat of arms, including a date palm

Saudi coin showing the country’s coat of arms, including a date palm.

Date palm trees have been around for somewhere in the region of 50 million years (according to fossil records) and their fruit’s popularity with us humans shows no sign of letting up any time soon.

What is a fig?

figs

A fig is an inverted flower – they’re technically not a fruit, believe it or not – that is found, less surprisingly, on fig trees. While there are over 850 different species of fig trees, or Ficus, one particular type is generally cultivated for its tasty produce, the Common Fig (Ficus carica).

Ficus carica is actually a relative of the Mulberry Tree and falls under the wider plant family Moraceae. Breadfruit, too, is part of the Moraceae family. Other types of edible fig are available, but may be harder to find in some regions.

Although native to areas such as Western Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean coastline of both Europe and Northern Africa, figs can be grown anywhere with warm, dry conditions, so California, again, is a major producer for the US fig market.

Like dates, figs are incredibly sweet and delicious, but their texture is quite unlike anything else. They’re smooth and chewy, yet their seeds give them a crunch as well. This sets them apart from similar fruits and makes them the perfect addition to salads. The difference in mouthfeel, however, isn’t for everyone, as some regard the fig to be too grainy in texture.

Interestingly, figs are thought to be the first ever “fruit” cultivated for human consumption and, like dates, they appear throughout ancients texts such as the Bible (fig leaves, anyone?). Ancient Egyptians, too, were rather keen on both, and a basket of dates and figs from the era can be seen at the British Museum in London.

Although they are truly delicious, figs do have a gnarly secret, and it’s one that some vegans may want to consider before purchasing…

Hey! What’s all this about figs and wasps?

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news if you didn’t already know, but yep, it’s true, some figs do contain dead wasps 😱 There was no way to break that to you gently, apologies.

fig wasp life cycle

Fig wasp. [Illustration]. In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/animal/fig-wasp?oasmId=19378

So, what’s the deal? Well, it comes down to a symbiotic relationship between the trees and tiny fig wasps. For more information on fig wasps, fig pollination, and more, check out the brilliant video below from Brain Stuff.

So, are figs vegan?

It’s the obvious question to ask, isn’t it? If figs are responsible for the death of a living being, can they be considered a vegan foodstuff?

First off, figs are not “responsible” for the wasp’s demise. The process, as we alluded to above, is mutualistic and actually beneficial to both species. That may be hard to wrap your head around considering one of them winds up dead, but the fact remains that without the process occurring, neither the fig tree nor the fig wasp would survive.

So, are figs vegan or not? For me they are, but I guess a lot will come down to personal choice. If the thought of it grosses you out, you can exercise your personal choice by not eating them. Simple.

Remember, though, that there is very little that we eat which could be deemed 100% vegan if we’re going to take things to the Nth degree. For example, harvesting of all fruit and vegetable crops runs the risk of causing harm to animals and insects, and even organic farmers will use natural pesticides that still kill insects. I don’t like it, but it’s kind of unavoidable in today’s world, unfortunately. To pretend that it isn’t would be, frankly, disingenuous.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why you never actually see a wasp corpse inside your figs it’s because an enzyme completely digests the poor blighter. The crunchy bits are seeds, thankfully!

Okay, now that’s out of the way, onto the next question…

Fresh or dried?

fresh and dried figs

Both figs and dates can be eaten in either dried or fresh form, although finding them fresh may be nigh on impossible at certain times of the year in some parts of the world.

Fresh figs are delicate things, so you’ll often see slight imperfections when shopping for them. Provided they aren’t split or oozing, they’ll be fine. In fact, a slight wrinkle to the fig’s skin is actually a good sign of ripeness, so opt for those over the shinier, more firm looking fruits. Avoid any that look overly shrivelled, though.

Fresh figs work particularly well in salads and such, whereas their dried counterparts are commonly used as a snacking food rather than an ingredient in recipes. That being said, dried figs can be used for baking if soaked first.

The same rules apply to fresh and dried dates, although soaking generally isn’t necessary. Fresh dates are not always easy to find, though, and not all dried dates are equal. Try and get the plumpest, shiniest fruits you can find, as these will be the freshest dried dates…if that makes sense!

Sometimes, dried dates can be a little too dry and papery, so it’s worth being choosy. If you can, give them a little squeeze before you buy. While nearly all dried dates will be a bit wrinkly, they should never be hard.

If you really want to take your fig and date consumption to the pro level, you could always consider purchasing a good food dehydrator for home use. These machines are great for making your own dried fruits, veg, and even nuts.

READ NEXT: Dark Brown Sugar Substitute: What Can You Use Instead?

Are there different types of dates and figs?

Yep, there sure are. Quite a few, in fact.

While you’ll often see the same varieties on store shelves, a little more searching can bring a wider range of figs and dates. Let’s take a look at some of the variations you might come across:

Different types of dates

There are lots of different types of dates, but not many of them will be available to purchase from regular stores or even health food shops. Below, however, are some of the date varieties you may encounter:

Amber

Much drier than others, Amber dates are often a lot sweeter because the natural sugars have crystalized so they hit the tastebuds with a punch. These cute little fruits also have a hint of cinnamon about them, making them ideal for a range of dessert dishes.

 

Barhi

Not the largest date in the world, but it’s certainly one to try if you can find them. The Bahri date is very soft and delicate, with a rich and syrupy taste. Delicious either in a sticky toffee pudding or on their own.

 

Dayri

This is one for the connoisseurs. Dayri dates are quite big compared to other types of this fruit and have delicate vanilla notes within their deep flavor. If you find Medjool dates a little on the sweet side, try and hunt down some Dayri instead. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Deglet noor

One of the most common dates around, Deglet Noor dates are just on the dry side, but that works in their favor. The chewy and sticky texture makes them great for baking (think vegan brownies) with and they taste just as a date should without being overly sweet.

 

Halawy

Halawy dates are probably not the most attractive of the family, but they make up for their wrinkly appearance by giving you a really full flavor. These dates have more flesh than other varieties and their taste is reminiscent of caramel and honey. These are perfect to be eaten as they are.

 

Khadrawi

Khadrawi dates (sometimes spelt Khadrawy) are not as sweet as many other dates, but they’re extremely tasty, nonetheless. Widely regarded as one of the best varieties to eat fresh…if you can get them.

 

Medjool

Possibly the finest of them all, Medjool dates give you a little bit of everything – and leave you wanting more! These dates fit somewhere in the middle of the texture range with a firm, yet succulent, flesh and very sweet, rich flavor. Medjool dates are quite large in comparison and are available all year round.

 

Thoory

Perfect for baking, the Thoory date is sweet and nutty with a quite dry, chewy texture and firm skin. Often referred to as the “Bread Date”, these dates will likely only be available in season.

 

Zahidi

Last on our list of different types of dates is the Zahidi. While the thoory is often called “bread date”, Zahidi dates take the moniker, “Butter Dates”. This nickname is thought to come from their lighter, golden color. Another date that’s great for baking, Zahidi dates have large seeds and very syrupy flesh. Even people who don’t like dates like Zahidis!

Different types of fig

As with dates, the different types of fig that you can buy will largely depend upon where you are in the world and the time of year. While there are numerous different types of fig available, the ones below are the most common:

Adriatic

At first glance, Adriatic figs don’t look much like figs at all/ Most of us are familiar with the darker varieties, so the light green/yellow color can make you take a second glance. Adriatic figs are very sweet and can be eaten as they come. The color contrast between their internal flesh and external skin make them very attractive when slice and presented on a pure white plate.

 

Black mission

Probably one of the most common fig varieties in the world, Black Mission figs are quite small and deliciously sweet. Their flesh is both sticky and smooth at the same time, and the numerous seeds add a welcome crunch to the experience. Black Mission figs can also be left to ripen more on their trees, and doing so enhances their chewiness and sugary flavor. I love these on top of vegan waffles with a little maple syrup…delicious!

 

Brown Turkey

The Brown Turkey fig is an impressive specimen. Larger than many other different types of fig, it is almost pear-like in its appearance and has a milder flavor than its cousins that makes it delightful in salads. As their name suggests, the skin has a brownish hue and should be tender to the touch when selecting in store or at your local farmer’s market. Tougher Brown Turkey figs are generally those which have been picked too soon, and the resulting lack of flavor will leave you disappointed.

 

Calimyrna

Another of the greener variety, Calimyrna figs have a flavor all of their own and pair particular well with a good nut cheese. As with the Adriatic figs, the contrast between their inner and outer layers make them very attractive when plated up as a simple dessert option. Try them broiled if you like a gooey, super-sweet texture.

 

Desert King

Another green fig, the Desert King fig is an amazing eat if left to ripen properly on the tree. Extremely sweet and with a very strong aroma, Desert King figs are suitable for use in a number of different dishes. Their texture is one that melts in the mouth rather than being too chewy, and the light strawberry color of their insides make this a very attractive fruit to serve.

 

Kadota

Kadota figs are not as sweet as some of the other varieties of figs on our list, but that doesn’t mean you should disregard them. Probably the most effective way to enjoy these is to cook with them, but they’re still great when eaten raw. Those who prefer their fruit to be smoother in texture will appreciate this common green fig.

 

Sierra

This fig has only hit the scene in the US over the last decade or so, but boy has it caught on. The Sierra fig is on the larger side when compared to the others here and they don’t have as much of a pronounced teardrop characteristic either. Sierra figs are quite mild and creamy, but still sweet, which makes them perfect for breakfast dishes.

Why you should include dates and figs in your diet

If you’re not already eating dates and figs, you really should consider incorporating them into your diet. While the concerns over fructose levels are understandable, there are some amazing health benefits to be had. Here are just a few:

The health benefits of dates

They may be high in fructose, but they’ve got plenty of good things going for them too. Dates have been shown to improve our health in a number of different ways, providing we consume them in moderation.

Here are some of the main health benefits of dates:

1. Good for your bones

If you are looking to improve your bone health, dates may be an excellent thing to add to your diet. These little brown nuggets are rich in copper, manganese, and magnesium, all of which are great for bone health and keeping diseases such as osteoporosis at bay. Vitamin K is also present in dates, which can help coagulate the blood and metabolize our bones.

 

2. Great source of protein

Dates are a decent way to get a little more protein, so they’re the perfect sweetener for your post-workout, whey-free smoothie (check out our best rated Ninja blender reviews to get yourself a great machine if you haven’t already). Throwing a couple of dates into your blender can give you a natural protein boost that’s far better for you than any synthetic powder.

 

3. Better digestive health

High in dietary fiber, dates give the body what it needs to, err, get things moving. This improved transit can help lower LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff) absorption and may also increase your body’s ability to rid itself of major toxins as they bind to the fiber as it passes through the colon.

 

4. Happy heart

Vitamin B6, magnesium, and potassium are all great heart healthy nutrients, and you can find them all in dates. While they are by no means a silver bullet, dates can give your body a boost as just an ounce of this wrinkly fruit will provide around 3 to 5 percent of each nutrient.

 

5. Better blood pressure

The same three nutrients outlined above can also help with blood pressure issues too. Potassium in particular is thought to be very beneficial for blood pressure levels as it can help offset the effect of sodium in the body.

 

6. Vital vitamin A

Dates give you a healthy does of vitamin A, too. This is essential for healthy skin and can also help protect your eyes and mucus membranes. Not only that, vitamin A also plays an important role in protecting the body from certain forms of cancer.

 

7. Inflammation protection

The phenolic constituents of date palm fruits and their antioxidant activities are thought to provide the body with possible protection against oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain, which could prove to be beneficial for neurological diseases like Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Alzheimer’s.

The health benefits of figs

You’ve probably gathered by now that I think these little beauties are pretty amazing, but if you still need convincing here are a few good reasons you should start falling for figs too.

By the way, the nutritional profile of figs actually improves when they’ve been dried, but don’t let that put you off of fresh figs; both are amazing and contain lots of healthful antioxidants which can help your body help itself. Just remember, moderation is important because of the high levels of fructose.

Here some of the main health benefits of figs:

1. Natural prebiotics

Figs are great providers of natural prebiotics which can help promote the growth of beneficial microorginisms already found within the digestive tract, which in turn improves your gut flora and overall health and wellbeing. Prebiotics are also thought to help the body combat invading pathogens, which may reduce the chances of bowel infections.

 

2. Better insulin regulation

Like dates, figs are high in both magnesium and potassium. This makes them great at controlling insulin levels within the body, which may help lower the risk of contracting diabetes.

 

3. Glorious hair

Ever wondered why so many hair care products contain fig extracts? Well, figs are full of beneficial nutrients (vitamin C, copper, zinc, and magnesium) that can actually stem hair loss, promote hair growth, and help rehydrate your locks, too.

 

4. Fabulous skin, too

Rich in antioxidants, figs can help rid the body of toxins that may adversely affect the condition of your skin. Similarly, their high fiber content will also help your body detox itself naturally.

 

5. Calcium kings

Figs are an amazing plant-based way to get more calcium into your diet. Just an ounce of dried figs can give you around 5% of your recommended daily value. Just one single solitary dried fig will nearly match the calcium levels found in an egg!

 

6. Easy estrogen buster

Having too much estrogen in our bodies is not a good thing, but figs can help. They are one of the best estrogen inhibiting foods you can eat, so if you’ve been told by your doctor that your levels are a little high, a few figs a day could help rebalance your body and improve your wellness.

 

7. Potential cancer fighting properties

While there’s still more research to be done, many scientists are excited by the cancer fighting properties found within figs. One study has found that certain elements found within Ficus carica are actually toxic to a number of cancer cell lines found in humans. Here’s hoping further studies lead us to a better understanding of the disease and a future cure.

Dates vs figs: Nutritional information

Let’s take a closer look at the nutritional profile of dates and figs:

Calories in figs – dried – (per 100g)

Calories: 249 (1043 kJ) 12%DV

From Carbohydrate: 230 (963 kJ)
From Fat: 7.8 (32.7 kJ)
From Protein: 11.1 (46.5 kJ)

 

Protein in figs – dried – (per 100g)

3.3g 7%DV

 

Carbohydrates in figs – dried – (per 100g)

Total Carbohydrate: 63.9g 21%DV
Dietary Fiber: 9.8g 39%DV
Starch: 5.1g
Sugars: 47.9g

 

Vitamins in figs – dried – per 100g)

Vitamin A: 10.0 IU 0%DV
Vitamin C: 1.2mg 2%DV
Vitamin D: ~ ~
Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol): 0.4mg 2%DV
Vitamin K: 15.6 mcg 19%DV
Thiamin: 0.1mg 6%DV
Riboflavin: 0.1mg 5%DV
Niacin: 0.6mg 3%DV
Vitamin B6: 0.1mg 5%DV
Folate: 9.0 mcg 2%DV
Vitamin B12: 0.0mcg 0%DV
Pantothenic Acid: 0.4mg 4%DV
Choline: 15.8mg
Betaine: 0.7mg

 

Minerals in figs – dried – (per 100g)

Calcium: 162mg 16%DV
Iron: 2.0mg 11%DV
Magnesium: 68.0mg 17%DV
Phosphorus: 67.0mg 7%DV
Potassium: 680mg 19%DV
Sodium: 10.0mg 0%DV
Zinc: 0.5mg 4%DV
Copper: 0.3mg 14%DV
Manganese: 0.5mg 26%DV
Selenium: 0.6 mcg 1%DV

 

Data courtesy of nutritiondata.self.com

Calories in dates – medjool – (per 100g)

Calories: 277 (1160 kJ) 14%DV

From Carbohydrate: 270 (1130 kJ)
From Fat: 1.3 (5.4 kJ)
From Protein: 6.1 (25.5 kJ)

 

Protein in dates – medjool – (per 100g)

1.8g 4%DV

 

Carbohydrates in dates – medjool – (per 100g)

Total Carbohydrate: 75.0g 25%DV
Dietary Fiber: 6.7g 27%DV
Starch: ~
Sugars: 66.5g

 

Vitamins in dates – medjool – (per 100g)

Vitamin A: 149 IU 3%DV
Vitamin C: 0.0 mg 0%DV
Vitamin D: ~ ~
Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol): ~ ~
Vitamin K: 2.7 mcg 3%DV
Thiamin: 0.1 mg 3%DV
Riboflavin: 0.1 mg 4%DV
Niacin: 1.6 mg 8%DV
Vitamin B6: 0.2 mg 12%DV
Folate: 15.0 mcg 4%DV
Vitamin B12: ~ ~
Pantothenic Acid: 0.8 mg 8%DV
Choline: 9.9mg
Betaine: 0.4mg

 

Minerals in dates – medjool – (per 100g)

Calcium: 64.0 mg 6%DV
Iron: 0.9 mg 5%DV
Magnesium: 54.0 mg 14%DV
Phosphorus: 62.0 mg 6%DV
Potassium: 696 mg 20%DV
Sodium: 1.0 mg 0%DV
Zinc: 0.4 mg 3%DV
Copper: 0.4 mg 18%DV
Manganese: 0.3 mg 15%DV
Selenium: ~ ~

 

Data courtesy of nutritiondata.self.com

Dates vs figs…done!

That’s it guys, everything you need to know about dates and figs all on one handy page.

If you think I’ve missed anything, drop me a comment below. Thanks for reading!

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