The Fig: A Potent Fruit of the Ancient Levant

Stories and fables on the Mediterranean Fig.
The Fig: A Potent Fruit of the Ancient Levant

The Fig: A Potent Fruit of the Ancient Levant

A fleshy orb, rupturing at its seams, splits open to reveal a red, succulent core. The fig, rich in symbolism and going back 11,000 years, is the earliest fruit tree in the world to be cultivated. Originally from the Aegean coast of Asia Minor, its cultivation spread to the Mediterranean basin and across the Levant. 

Throughout ancient times, the fig came to symbolize wisdom, abundance, fertility, and prosperity. Adam and Eve stitched fig leaves together to cover their naked bodies; the Greeks bestowed figs and fig leaves upon the winners of athletic competitions; the ancient Egyptians considered figs to be a symbol of the victory over death; and in ancient Rome, the fig was used in religious ceremonies in honor of the wine god Bacchus. 

The fig comes in a variety of colors, depending on species and location. In Turkey, native figs are a deep-eggplant hue. Going west, we tend to find figs in varying shades of green. 

The best time to consume these noble fruits is in late August, when the season is dwindling and figs are at their ripest. 


Figs served on labneh with honey, olive oil, and pistachio.

Figs served on labneh with honey, olive oil, and pistachio.

Figs with Labneh and Pistachio Nuts

A sweet and salty dish that brings out the flavor of the Mediterranean fig. A simple, summery breakfast, snack, or desert. 


Serves 1

200 grams, labneh

4 ripe figs

Honey, drizzled

½ tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Pistachios, chopped


  1. Spread labneh on a plate and layer with quartered figs.
  2. Drizzle with honey and olive oil.
  3. Finely chop fresh pistachios and sprinkle on top.

Incir Dolması (Stuffed Fig) 

An ancient Roman recipe, still popular in dessert shops in Turkey and the Levant. Stuffing figs requires a steady hand and a bit of patience, but the result is exotic and delightful. 


10 whole dried figs

Whole walnuts, shelled

A little milk 


  1. Boil the whole dried figs for about 5 minutes until they are tender.
  2. Drain, pat dry, and remove the stalk tops with a knife. 
  3. Stuff one or two walnut halves into each fig through the opening at the top.
  4. Place the figs in a shallow pan, upright.
  5. Pour the milk and simmer on low heat until it is completely absorbed
  6. Serve hot or cold with clotted cream.

Incir Hosabı (Fig Compote)

An 18th century Turkish recipe. The writer of this recipe suggests figs from the city of Smyrna (modern day Izmir), but any sweet, dried fig will do. LEVANT recommends this for winter days, when fresh figs are a faint memory. 


Whole Dried, high quality figs



  1. Rinse figs under cold water. Cut stems and prick each fig several times with the prongs of a fork.
  2. Arrange in a large bowl and fill with cold water. 
  3. Put in the refrigerator overnight, the figs will swell and plump with water.
  4. Serve cold with white cheese or feta, bread, and olives.
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