Contents - Click a link to skip to the section you want to read
If you’ve ever felt your lips or tongue burn and tingle after eating fresh ficus fruits you may well wonder what’s going on. What causes that sensation, and can you eat fig skin without experiencing that unpleasant feeling? Is it even safe to eat fig skin?
In today’s post, I’m going to take a look at these questions and give you definitive answers so you can get the most from this glorious fruit.
Shall we get started?
Can you eat fig skin?
Before we dig deeper into the reasons why figs can make your mouth burn, let’s clear up the question of whether or not you can eat fig skins.
Fig skins are totally edible and completely safe to eat, despite the sensation they sometimes cause.
In fact, eating the skin along with the inside of the fruit will give you a more rounded nutritional profile and provide you with a little extra dietary fiber, so eating the skin is actually a good idea.
Why do fresh figs make your lips and tongue burn?
Now we know that fig skins are safe to eat, it’s time to explore the reason why the fruit can sometimes make your tongue and lips tingle.
Many people erroneously believe that there are tiny hairs or prickles on fig skins and that these are the culprits for the burning sensation, but that isn’t the case. The real reason for the burning or tingling feeling is the presence of something called ficin.
What is ficin? Well, ficin is a proteolytic enzyme and proteolytic enzymes break down protein, metabolizing it into amino acids. It’s this process that causes the tingling sensation you may experience when eating fresh figs. It’s very similar to what happens when you eat fresh pineapple, as they have their own proteolytic enzyme called bromelain which does the same job.
Why don’t all figs cause burning?
Good question! You may have noticed that some figs cause more tingling than others and the key factor behind this is ripeness. Properly ripe figs will not burn anywhere near as much as unripe ones will, and that’s where a lot of the problems arise.
You see, store bought figs are almost always unripe due to the fact that it would be nigh on impossible for them to be picked, packaged, and shipped quickly enough without them spoiling if they were to be harvested when fully ripe. This means that when you buy your figs from a store and eat them straight away, you’re more likely to experience the burning sensation than if you were to pluck a completely ripe fruit from a tree.
Ripe figs on a tree are almost jelly like in feel and way too delicate to stand up to the rigors of mass distribution. A properly ripe fig will only last another day or two on the tree, so that doesn’t fit with the supermarket model either, hence the reason why unripe fruits are so commonly picked.
While it’s true that eating a ripe fig will lessen the chances of you feeling the burning sensation, it’s worth keeping in mind that ficin is still present, just in smaller quantities. So, if you eat a ton of really ripe figs, the chances are good that you’ll still feel the burn.
Can you ripen figs off the tree?
With supermarkets selling underripe fruits, you’d be right to question whether or not figs continue to ripen once picked from the tree. The answer? Well, the jury appears to be out on this one, but the majority are leaning towards no, they cannot be ripened once picked.
That being said, figs will “soften” after a time, but this is quite different to ripening. Ripening enhances both flavor and sweetness, whereas softening merely does what it suggests; changes the texture.
How to eat a fig
When taken from the ficus tree in an unripe state, figs will release a latex-like white liquid (sometimes referred to as “fig milk”) from the stem, and it’s within this liquid that ficin is found in its highest quantities. Therefore, you’ll be well advised to discard the stem rather than eating it.
Another way to minimise the burn is to follow the advice in the video above from RawRunners. Splitting the fig in half from the base and turning it inside out will reduce the chances of the ficin coming into contact with your lips and tongue. Just remember to take off that stem, too!
What about dried figs? Do they burn?
In general, no. Unlike fresh figs, the figs picked to be dried are usually very ripe so that they can be put through the drying out process immediately. This lowers the ficin content and makes the reaction to the proteolytic enzyme almost non-existent.
Couple this with the fact that the drying process itself will undoubtedly remove a lot of the latex or fig milk (you’ll see the residue if you use a top rated food dryer at home), and you’ll find that eating dried figs will not cause your mouth to burn or tingle in the same ways as fresh figs do.
What are your figgy experiences? Have you felt the burn? Let me know in the comments below!