A tiger fig by another name would be a candy stripe or Panaché fig.
The fig with many names has a somewhat mysterious pedigree. Some growers claim to have discovered an odd tree in their orchards. Others credit a couple of sprouts at the University of California-Davis plant repository for giving birth to the trendy tiger.
Regardless of the name or heritage, two things are known for certain — more retailers are asking for the green and yellow striped figs and California growers are responding with increasing acreage.
“We are excited as an industry about this fig,” said Karla Stockli, chief executive officer of the California Fig Advisory Board, Fresno.
“With its unique flavor it can pair with very different types of foods, unlike many other fig varieties. With tigers you can go the sweet dessert route or you can just add them to a salad for color and texture.”
Tigers have been available in limited volumes for several years, and there never seem to be any extra, said George Kragie, president of Western Fresh Marketing, Madera, Calif.
“We’ve got three growers with them,” Kragie said.
“I tend to let the tigers market themselves because they do just that.”
Kurt Cappelluti, sales manager for Madera-based Stellar Distributing, said the tigers do sell themselves and that’s one reason Stellar is increasing its capacity. Cappelluti said the company shipped about 20,000 half-tray equivalents last year.
This year, with 300 acres of three- to four-year-old tiger trees, Stellar will likely ship 100,000 half-tray equivalents, Cappelluti said.
Even with that five-fold increase, the tigers are only about 3% of Stellar’s overall fresh fig volume this year, leaving plenty of room for future growth, Cappelluti said.
Another Madera-based grower said such growth takes plenty of patience. Kevin Herman, owner of The Specialty Crop Co. and president of the Fresno-based California Fig Growers Association, has about 160 acres of tiger figs now, having added to the orchards in the past couple of years.
“We found out last year that the volume can be disappointing,” Herman said.
“We had hoped with the size of the trees there would be more fruit, but our oldest are only five years old.
“You have to wait for tigers and you don’t want to treat them too well. If you give them too much water or they get too much sun they won’t produce like you want them to.”
Despite the challenges, Herman said he is glad he invested in additional tiger trees. He said they command premium prices because of limited supplies.
This year he expects to begin picking tigers as early as Aug. 1.
Also on the tiger train are J&R Orchards, Chowchilla, Calif., and Earl’s Organic Produce, San Francisco.
J&R marketing manager Chris DeBenedetto said the family-owned company has the sweet striped figs “in the works” with plans to add 10-15 acres.
Randy Windham, a fruit buyer for Earl’s Organic Produce, said retailers and consumers in the San Francisco area are very enthusiastic about what they call candy stripe figs.
He said Earl’s has has handled the variety for about three years, with more requests every year from customers.
“With the trees maturing now there should be more fruit,” Windham said.
“That’s what we’ve been waiting for.”