Chefs help drive demand for fresh fig products

06/27/2014 02:57:00 PM
Melissa Shipman

Figs continue to be the darling of the culinary world, said Karla Stockli, chief executive officer of the California Fig Advisory Board, Fresno.

Fresh figs are especially popular in fine-dining establishments, but even casual chain restaurants like Olive Garden occasionally feature figs as part of regional promotions, Stockli said.

George Kragie, president of Madera, Calif.-based Western Fresh Marketing, agreed the majority of the growth has been at fine-dining establishments, but that international restaurants are also big users of figs.

“There are a lot of Middle Eastern or Italian restaurants that feature figs,” he said.

Another factor affecting foodservice demand for fresh figs is the success of some growers’ attempts at creating a fresh-frozen fig product.

“It’s a relatively new idea. We’ve done it extremely limited in the past but we’re starting to get more inquires on that,” said Kevin Herman, owner and president of Madera-based The Specialty Crop Co.

Herman said his company is working to set up its process of freezing fresh figs in-house.

“We’ve done a small amount for the last two years, but we’re working on that now,” he said.

One foodservice company uses the fresh-frozen figs to make jellies and jams on a year-round basis.

“They can thaw the figs out and use them all year,” Herman said.

There are challenges to creating the new product, however.

Unlike fresh figs, fresh-frozen figs would only have a three- or four-day shelf life once thawed, Herman said.

Fresh fig growers usually strive for about a two-week shelf life.

Stockli said more research is needed, and in progress, to hopefully develop and select the best method and variety for the fresh-frozen product. It might take some time before a real standard is developed.

“The best fig for freezing may not be one of the already common varieties,” she said.



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