There are many misconceptions about types of figs, what they are, and especially about which figs are edible. I was shocked looking at the answers some websites give. It’s like they just copy the same wrong information over and over again from each other.
Most caprifigs are actually edible but not nearly as desirable to eat as other types of figs. Besides, they are often full of wasps. That’s why they are generally considered as an inedible type of figs.
For the sake of this article, we will consider them inedible as well.
Male Fig vs. Female Fig – Types of Figs
Some refer to caprifigs as male and to every other type as female. While that simplifies the distinction, it isn’t correct categorization.
There are four types of figs, caprifigs, Smyrna figs, san Pedro figs, and common figs. Some of them are male, some female, and some both.
Let’s see which are which!
What Are Caprifigs?
Caprifigs can be referred to as male because they have dominant male flowers, although most caprifigs have inactive female flowers as well. That’s why some caprifigs can ripen.
Even though most caprifig varieties are edible when cooked, caprifigs are rarely eaten purely because their taste is not nearly as good as other fig types. Also, dead wasps, as previously mentioned.
Instead, they are mostly used as pollinators for fig types that require male flower pollen to ripen. Male flower pollen is transferred to female flower figs by tiny wasps called Blastophaga wasps.
They are commonly found as wild figs in countries like Turkey and Greece. In the US, they are somewhat spread in the wild in California.
What Are Smyrna Figs?
Smyrna figs are a group of similar fig varieties from Turkey. One of those varieties is known as Calimyrna in the US.
Smyrna figs have only female flowers, and to ripen, they need to be pollinated by male pollen.
The pollen is best transferred from a Caprifig, which you will see why later on. However, a common misconception is that Caprifig is the only fig type to pollinate Smyrna figs.
Male pollen can also be transferred from common fig types with wide enough eyes for insects to enter and leave early in their growth. Although, this type of pollination is highly ineffective.
Smyrna figs are mostly grown commercially, as they are one of the best varieties to eat when dried. If not the best.
What Are San Pedro Figs?
San Pedro figs have both male and female flowers. However, their male flowers are not active during every crop formation.
Their breba fig crop, the first of the two crops in a year, ripens properly without cross-pollination from male pollen.
The second, or main crop, requires male pollen the same as Smyrna fig varieties.
What Are Common Figs?
Common figs deserve their name to the fullest extent because 95% or more non-commercially grown fig trees in the world are common fig trees.
They also include by far the most different varieties. In other words, there is a common fig variety for every purpose and human desire. Some would even say every medical problem, but that is a question for medical experts.
As far as I know, there are no common fig varieties that aren’t edible.
Common fig trees have both male and female flowers in their fruit. Thus they don’t require cross-pollination. Them being standalone is what made them so popular for the average grower.
How To Identify a Caprifig?
To identify a male caprifig, look for five stamens that protrude from the bottom of the fruit. On a caprifig, they should protrude out from the fig’s eye. There are no protruding stamens on female trees.
Look at the fig tree’s fruiting cycle and notice how it repeats itself. Each year, male caprifig trees produce three unique fruit harvests. The profichi, or early summer, variety is the earliest to mature. The second, mammoni, ripens in the fall, and the third, mamme, develops in the winter and ripens in the spring.
There are two harvests each year for female trees: the early-summer breba and the fall-harvest major crop. In other words, look for three crops in a year instead of two, and you have a caprifig.
You can see the inside of the fig by opening it up and inspecting the flesh. Male caprifigs are smaller, have thicker skin, and have a bigger space between the seeded pulp and the outer skin.
You will usually find a semi-hollow or dried inside in a caprifig rather than the usual juicy and plump texture. While the skin of a male fig is thick, the luscious pulp on female and common figs sits right next to it, with little space between the skin and the pulp.
Caprifigs will be quite dry inside, sometimes even completely dry. On the other hand, female and common figs, despite the abundance of seeds, will have wet to somewhat damp surrounding tissues.