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.