What are the benefits of dried figs

Figs are very rich in Sodium, Potassium and Magnesium. Fig, which is a rich source of vitamin C, contains high amounts of vitamins B3, B6, B2 and K. It is also very rich in fiber, which is very important for the heart and stomach. The nutritional value of dried figs is higher than that of fresh figs.

Figs are a healthy treat full of minerals like potassium, iron and calcium. They can help to regulate high blood pressure by keeping sodium levels in check and promote strong bones and teeth.

A national value: Turkish figs

Figs are predominantly grown in countries that are dominated by a Mediterranean climate. Although fig plantations are widespread in Turkey, there are variations in soil and climate conditions among the growing regions. The ideal conditions for dried fig production are: temperate and rainy winters, 30-40°C summer temperatures especially in July-September, 45-50% relative humidity, alluvial, clayish-loam soil, and an average annual precipitation of around 650 mm. When the famous Turkish fig cultivar, ‘Sarılop’, is grown in the Büyük and Küçük Menderes basins of the Aegean region, where the climate and soil conditions meet these desired criteria, some of the best quality dried figs in the world are produced. Fig production is carried out mainly in Aydin, Bursa, Izmir, Mersin, Hatay, Balıkesir, Antalya and Gaziantep provinces in Turkey (Figure 1). In recent years, there has been an increase in fig production in both the Adana province and Çukurova basin. Aydın province accounts for 62 and 75% of fresh and dried fig production, respectively.

Almost all of the dry fig cultivation in Turkey occurs in the Büyük and Küçük Menderes basin. Fifty to sixty years ago, fig production was carried out mainly on the lowlands (Figure 2), however, with the removal of fig trees from these flat areas for other purposes, the majority of fig production has shifted to slopes and mountainous terrain.

Poor soil structure and erosion are the most important problems in fig cultivation in the mountainous areas. In this regard, it has become necessary to develop soil and water preservation techniques. In lowland areas, first olives and citrus, and then pomegranates, plums and corn, have been tried as alternatives to fig cultivation, but none of them have survived for long. At a conference held in 1955 on the theme of fig, it was recommended that the fig trees should not be removed, despite all the difficulties. The participants recognised that figs had been cultivated in these ecological locations for over 2500 years. Herodotos, who was an historian living in the Bodrum county of Turkey in the fifth century BC was quoted as saying “fig culture is as old as human history”, and that “the reason Persians gave up their fighting in the battle was lack of fig in their foods”

Fig production and trade


Figs have been produced commercially in the Large and Small Menderes valleys for nearly 200 years. Turkey ranks first in the world in terms of fresh fig production, and is followed by Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Iran (Table 1). Turkey produced 26% of the world production in 2014, whilst Egypt, Algeria and Morocco produced 16, 11 and 11%, respectively. Turkey is also the number one producer of dried figs


DRIED FIG EXPORT BY COUNTRIES

In recent years domestic and international trade of fresh figs has been increasing (Sahin and Ucar, 2014). For the last 30 years there haven’t been any large increases in the total area of figs, number of fig trees or total fig production in Turkey. In 1990, 300,000 t of figs were produced from 10,443 fig trees, and in 2013, 299,000 t were produced from 10,500 trees. However, export volumes have increased significantly, and this has resulted in greater incomes. Approximately 70% of fresh figs produced in Turkey are utilized for drying. According to the İzmir Commodity Exchange, dry fig production was estimated to be 80,000 t in 2017.

In terms of export quantities, in 1991, about 32,000 t of dried figs and 3,000 t of fresh figs were exported and approximately 66 and 4 million US$ income was obtained, respectively

By 2014 dried fig exports had risen to 76,000 t, worth 253 million US$ (Anonymous, 2017; Figure 4). While Turkey has exported most of its figs to EU countries, in recent years Russia, the Far East and the Arab countries have become significant export destinations. Whereas 10 years ago China imported very small amounts of figs, in the 2013-2014 season, it purchased more than 4,000 t (Anonymous, 2017). Given China’s large population, it could become a very important export market for Turkish figs. In terms of dried figs, Turkey has almost no competitor in the world markets. However, in terms of fresh fig production, countries such as Israel, Italy and Spain are becoming important competitors.

Fig cultivars

The Turkish traditional figs are still considered to be some of the highest quality figs available. The cultivar ‘Sarılop’ accounts for 90% of dried fig production grown in Turkey.

‘Sarı Zeybek’ (Figure 8) in Nazilli region, ‘Bardacık’ in İzmir region and ‘Akça’ in Germencik area, are grown as local cultivars. Other cultivars used include ‘Keten Köyneği’ in the Şanlıurfa region for both dried and fresh figs, ‘Halebi’ and ‘Sultani’ in the Gaziantep region for dried figs, ‘Melli’ in the Burdur Bucak region for both dried and fresh figs, and ‘Mut’ in the Mersin Mut region. The dried figs (‘Sarılop’ and ‘Sarı Zeybek’ cultivars) produced in Turkey have unique qualities, including a soft texture, natural color, honey flavor and pleasant smell. Figs from Iran have a harder texture, and from Greece are smaller and whiter colored, than those from Turkey.

Orchard establishment


Fig orchard establishment in Turkey begins with the planting of single leader trees, which have been propagated from cuttings, have 10-15 mm diameter and are 70-90 cm in length (Figure 10). In preparation for planting, land is usually tilled 20-30 days after autumn rains. On flat land, trees are planted at 7×7 or 8×8 m spacings for dried fig plantations, or at 6×4 m spacings for fresh fig plantations. On slopes and highland regions, trees are usually planted at 6×6 m spacings because the trees develop smaller canopies. New orchards in Aydın district are usually planted from the second half of November to the first half of December after autumn defoliation has occurred. In cold regions, delaying planting of new orchards until February can be beneficial. After planting, canopy development is encouraged by heading the trees at 70-80 cm.

Orchard management
Fertilization, irrigation and soil preparation


Production of dried figs in the Aydın region is generally carried out without inorganic fertilization. The majority of Turkish figs are cultivated in soils with low nutrient content, and can be grown without the need for chemical control of pests and diseases. However, in some production areas the soils are sandy and contain lime. In such areas, soil analysis needs to be carried out, and where required, nutrient supplementation undertaken. In the years when the annual precipitation is less than 600 mm, or in very permeable sandy soils, irrigation is required. Using underground irrigation systems is very important for reducing evaporation for dried fig cultivars. Winter irrigation is recommended if the rainfall is less than needed. Tillage is recommended 3-4 times per year in the cultivation of dried figs, for weed control, soil ventilation and rainwater storage, preferably in November, March and June. For the prevention of erosion on sloping terrain, tillage should be carried out as little as possible, but if it becomes necessary, in non-precipitation periods and following the contours of the slope (Aksoy, 2016).

Pruning

Generally, training of young trees follows “modified leader” or “goblet” systems. Trees are shaped as 3 or 4 main leaders and the canopy is created around these leaders. Dried fig cultivation areas are generally warm and dry in the summer, thus development of the main branches in the juvenile period of the tree will prevent sun burn. In sloping or mountainous areas, where the altitude is 500 m or above, multi-leader training is recommended. Because each cut has the potential to change the growth of the tree, no branch should be removed without a reason. Removing branches more than needed can cause fruit quality losses in dried fig cultivation. On the contrary, leaving too many shoots and branches during annual pruning also causes fruit to be small and of poor quality because of excessive crop loads. Fig rootstocks tend to produce suckers, so these should be removed at the beginning of the growth period. Rejuvenation pruning of old trees can be applied by removing main branches as needed.

Pollination and Fruit Formation


The fig fruit is actually a syconium, a fleshy hollow receptacle with multiple ovaries. There are two types of fig trees; male trees (or caprifig trees) and female trees. Caprifig trees have inedible fruit from which pollen is used to pollinate edible figs, hence they are considered to be male trees. Female trees produce edible fruit, although they have both male and female flowers. Important Turkish fig cultivars such as ‘Sarılop’, ‘Bursa Siyahı’, ‘Yeşilgüz’, ‘Morgüz’ and ‘Göklop’ are female trees and require cross-pollination for fruit set, which is carried out by the caprifig wasp named Plastophaga psenes. P. psenes lives in the fruit of caprifig trees. Mature wasps carry pollen with their wings and feet from the male flowers in the caprifig to female fruit through the ostiole hole. The ostiole is the opening of the involuted fig inflorescence through which the fig wasps enter to pollinate. In male trees (caprifig), three different fruit types are formed in three periods that contribute to the life cycle of the wasp. The first fruit are formed in September-November, the second occur in February-April and are called ‘caprifig’, and third and the last fruit in a season are formed in May-June. A ripe caprifig fruit (last half of May-first half of June) is sized like a large hazelnut, matt green colored, and consists of 170-1300 gal flowers (female flower) and 40-220 male flowers.


The main fig crop forms on current year’s shoots, which emerge in May. In contrast, breba fruit develop on one-year-old shoots in March-April, and these fruit mature in the second half of June in Aydın province conditions, as observed in cultivars such as ‘Siyah Orak’, ‘Beyaz Orak’, ‘Horasan’ and ‘Yediveren’. These cultivars also form fruit in summer. In some cultivars like ‘Beyaz Orak’ pollination by the caprifig wasp is not needed for fruit set in June, whereas in August insect pollination is obligatory. On the other hand, ‘Siyah Orak’ (Figure 11) does not need pollination for fruit set in either June or August. These cultivars are considered as parthenocarpic because their fruit develop without pollination and they have no seeds.

In Turkey, pollination of fig (caprification) is usually carried out in the first half of June. Caprifigs are harvested in the early hours of the morning (Figure 12) and put into a net bag containing 3-4 fruit. Three of these bags are hung on each female fig tree so the caprifig wasps can transfer the pollen to the female figs. This process is repeated at least twice at an
interval of approximately one week. Chemical pest and weed control, hanging pheromone traps and tillage should not be carried out during the caprification period. Some caprifigs may carry diseases, thus, usage of healthy caprifig fruit for pollination are effective on the quality of summer fruit. Selection of healthy fruits for caprification is an effective method to prevent diseases in the fruit.

Harvesting and drying of figs


Harvesting of figs for drying takes about 8 weeks. In the ‘Sarılop’ cultivar, the fruit ripen (semi dry, with 40-50% moisture content) on the tree and drop spontaneously to the ground. Fallen fruit are collected 2-3 times a week and brought to a suitable area for drying. Harvesting should be performed at frequent intervals. The drying process is carried out on plastic drying trays called kerevet (Figure 13) for 2-3 days, until the water content drops to 22-24%.

In order to make the drying process faster and healthier, it is beneficial to dry the fruit under a plastic tunnel in which two sides are covered by a net (Figure 14). Once dried, the fruit are transported to wholesaler or growers’ warehouses immediately. The warehouses are normally built in cool locations without sun, and have dry air flow and odorless environments. Windows and other open areas are covered with nets. The dried figs must be kept out of contact with the ground.

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