For some people, figs are an acquired taste while others just can’t eat enough of them. It’s not really a food that people universally embrace as something mouth-watering and delectable like, oh say, chocolate for example – but they’re definitely delicious! Here’s one thing you might not know: there’s an extra “bonus” ingredient in some figs that is actually quite gross…
Figs grow on fig trees around the world and are believed to be a fruit. But in reality, they’re inverted flowers. That’s because fig trees do not produce flowers that are pollinated and grow into apples or peaches, for example. Instead, the fig tree’s flowers bloom inside the odd looking pear-shaped pieces dangling on limbs, which eventually matures into the fig. The seeds actually are the fruit in a fig. But this is where it starts to get a bit creepy for your taste buds.
Fig trees, which technically are more like a bush, produce fruit called achene with the help of the fig wasp. The wasp is born inside the figs, then when a female hatches, she crawls outside to find a new fig to lay her eggs in. While traversing about, looking for a new fig to call home, she picks up pollen from the fig’s male flowers and tracks this into her new fig home, pollinating the seeds inside there.
The female fig wasp enters the pod through a hole in its bottom. Strangely, each fig pod is a particular shape and size to let in only certain fig wasps. But tragically, the female fig wasp dies after entering the pod and laying her eggs, sometimes as many as a few hundred eggs in one batch. She’s trapped in there afterward, because her antennae and wings break off when she squeezes through the hole.
The males who hatch inside a fig can’t escape their little pod either. They’re born without wings, because their job is to mate and not fly to find a new home. After the males hatch, they creep around inside the fig and impregnate the females, which are pretty much their sisters. Eww. Then, they dig tunnels to the exterior of the fig, which allows the females to escape, but since they don’t have wings, they pretty much croak at that point.
So the fig wasps die inside the fig that is then picked and eaten or used to make food. That means that yes, you are eating insects inside your figs. Well, sort of….
Screenshot via YouTube
Scientists claim that the fig absorbs the dead wasp’s body as it grows and ripens. The fig contains an enzyme called ficin that breaks the wasp’s remains down into protein. So in actuality, you’re not munching on actual crunchy bug legs or anything like that when you feast on figs. They’ve decomposed. Is that a more reassuring thought?
Fortunately, a considerable number of the 750 fig species produced and sold in certain parts of the country are self-fertile and do not need pollination; others are seedless and don’t require pollination either. That means fig wasps aren’t shacking up inside. Other species are grown on male-only and female-only trees and we eat only the female figs, so there shouldn’t be any fig wasps holing up inside those figs either.
Learn more about this tasty–and sometimes extra crunchy–food.
Now that you know the truth about what’s inside some figs, will it sway your mind? If you buy one of the common kinds sold in grocery stores, there shouldn’t be fig wasps involved in the fig’s production anyway. If you need a bit more protein in your diet, then the fig with its bonus fig wasps inside just might be the food for you!