Perhaps you have never considered this question before, but are figs vegan? According to most vegans, they are delicious, highly nutritious, and plant-based. However, for some, the developmental process of figs poses a problem to their vegan ideologies because it results in the wasp’s death.
Unraveling the Mysteries of this Sweet Fruit
There are thousands of fig varieties, and without a doubt, figs are a mysterious offering from nature.
Interestingly, figs are not fruits because they consist of a cluster of several flowers and seeds inside a rounded stem. Therefore, since figs are inverted flowers, they belong to a group of plants known as inflorescences.
Several fruits and vegetables require pollination to produce, and some fig varieties rely on wasps as their pollinator. However, Healthline stresses that it’s essential to know that the wasps also depend on the fruit to reproduce, making theirs a mutually beneficial co-existence or symbiotic relationship.
Since the fig is essentially an inverted enclosed flower, they cannot rely on bees or the wind to pollinate them. As the female wasp nears the end of its life, she wiggles her way into the tiny opening at the end of the fig flower. In the process of getting in, her wings and antenna are destroyed, but she has a safe place to lay her eggs.
Soon after laying, the wasp dies. An enzyme contained within the fig digests the dead wasp. Once the wasp’s eggs hatch within the fig, the mating process begins between the male and female larvae. Now the tiny wasps leave the fig, taking pollen with them. The process ensures the survival of both the lifecycles of figs and wasps.
Are Figs Vegan?
As you can see, fig production does pose an ethical question for some vegans. If you have wondered if enjoying figs is a vegan-questionable practice and asked yourself: “Are figs vegan?” then read on to see both sides of the argument and to find out which fig products to avoid.
Figs are Vegan for Most People
Technically speaking, figs are a vegan food as they are not animal-based, even though some varieties require this mutually beneficial relationship with wasps for their pollination.
Additionally, this article from Treehugger assures us most varieties of figs grown in the U.S. are self-pollinating, meaning they don’t rely on wasps for pollination. Fig growers don’t need to transport wasps to their orchards like other fruit and vegetable growers need to transport honey bees to ensure their crop pollination.
In colder climates, fig growers rely on hormones rather than wasps to help fertilize and ripen their fruits.
Even in cases where the fig requires pollination from a wasp, the wasp finds its way to the tree, benefiting itself and the tree in their integrated lifecycle. Therefore, since this is a process that requires no human intervention, most vegans adhere to the belief that there is no form of animal exploitation.
Additionally, by avoiding figs, a vegan is not preventing the death of wasps since this natural process will continue.
Therefore, for vegans who seek to maintain a way of living that excludes any form of animal exploitation as far as is possible and practicable, eating figs does not detract from their vegan ideology.
Some People Still Don’t Consider Them Vegan
However, despite being a plant-based food, some people still question whether figs qualify as vegan because some varieties’ developmental process relies on the death of the pollinator wasps.
The fig’s enclosed flower starts as a hollow ball called a syconium. The ball contains tiny flowers, but these cannot reproduce without the female pollinator wasp. The wasp enters the flower from a slight opening of the male caprifig known as the ostiole and lays its eggs.
Once the female wasp deposits its eggs, it dies, but her offspring mate in the fig. Unfortunately, the males are born without wings because their duty after mating is to chew holes in the fig to help the females escape and off to find new figs to lay their eggs.
If a female wasp mistakenly enters a female fig, she cannot escape from the tiny ostiole since she loses her wings and antenna. She cannot lay her eggs, but she does fertilize the fig.
The mother and males remaining behind get digested by the proteolytic enzyme, ficain. The process allows the absorption of all nutrients and the dissolution of the wasp’s exoskeleton, ensuring you don’t eat any dead insects when eating a fig.
Therefore, for some vegans, the unavoidable death of a wasp conflicts with the basic ideology of veganism. Even figs that don’t require wasp pollination, known as parthenocarpic figs, sometimes trap wasps from nearby trees.
Know Your Fig Varieties
Most figs grown for commercial purposes in the U.S. are self-pollinating. These are the most common varieties to choose from if you include figs in your vegan diet:
- Black Mission
- White Adriatic
- Brown Turkey
When traveling outside of the U.S. and want to know which varieties are pollinated by wasps, these are the ones to avoid:
- San Pedro
- Calimyrna (These figs are a hybrid of California and Smyrna figs. They are also the only variety frown in the U.S. that requires wasp pollination)
Which fig products are not vegan?
Now that you know the argument for and against the question “Are figs vegan?” – let’s look at what else you should know about them.
When eating figs fresh or dried, you don’t potentially have a problem because these are vegan. These delicious “fruits” have plenty of antioxidants and fiber. However, once added to a baked product or a jelly, you must carefully read the labels to ensure no animal-derived products have been added. These include eggs, milk, gelatin (derived from animal bones and skin), butter, ghee, food dyes, additives, etc.
Most figs grown in the U.S. are self-pollinating, meaning they have a very slight possibility of containing wasps. But even if they do, these insects and plants have evolved over 75 million years, allowing the development of over 700 fig species. Some fig varieties rely on wasps to develop, but these are fully absorbed in their growing and ripening process. Fig cultivation has no intentional animal exploitation, but it’s up to you to decide whether they belong in a vegan diet.
Are Figs Vegan?
Technically speaking, figs are a vegan food as they are not animal-based, even though some varieties require this mutually beneficial relationship with wasps for their pollination. For vegans who seek to maintain a way of living that excludes any form of animal exploitation as far as is possible and practicable, eating figs does not detract from their vegan ideology. However, some people may still question whether figs qualify as vegan because some varieties’ developmental process relies on the death of the pollinator wasps.
What Fig Products Are Not Vegan
When eating fresh or dried figs, you don’t potentially have a problem because these are vegan. These delicious “fruits” have plenty of antioxidants and fiber. However, once added to a baked product or a jelly, you must carefully read the labels to ensure no animal-derived products have been added. These include eggs, milk, gelatin (derived from animal bones and skin), butter, ghee, food dyes, additives, etc.
Which Varieties of Figs Are Vegan?
Most figs grown for commercial purposes in the U.S. are self-pollinating. These are the most common varieties if you include figs in your vegan diet: Kadota, Black Mission, White Adriatic, Brown Turkey, and Conadria. When traveling outside the U.S., avoid San Pedro Smyrna and Calimyrna varieties, which require wasp pollination.
What Are The Benefits of Eating Figs?
Figs are a great source of fiber, minerals, and vitamins. They have many health benefits, such as aiding digestion, promoting heart health, providing anti-inflammatory properties, and helping with blood sugar regulation. In addition to being highly nutritious, figs add a sweet flavor to dishes and make delicious snacks or desserts!
Are figs good for weight loss?
Yes, figs can be beneficial for weight loss because they provide plenty of fiber to help you stay full longer. Additionally, the high levels of antioxidants in figs help promote fat burning and prevent excess fat storage in the body.