We live in a strange world where humans spend less and less time outside. So many of us are disconnected from the natural world. Most things in our lives are virtual, processed and synthetic. Nothing depresses me more than those videos of children being shown vegetables and asking “what is this?” While I can confidently identify an onion, I am clueless about a lot of things. That is why I want to start doing regular weird food facts posts, starting with figs and why they are filled with juicy, spicy wasps. Yum.
But first, watch this…
It’s crazy how culture effects children’s food choices. Living in China I watched children as young as three remove bones from chicken and fish. They also all love broccoli, know that meat comes from animals and many of them loved spicy sauce as well as more sophisticated spices. But anyway, we’re here to talk about waspy figs!
Is there a dead wasp in every fig?
“Most commercially grown figs are pollinated by wasps. And yes, edible figs wind up with at least one dead female wasp inside. But it’s still not quite the childhood myth of fruits squirming with insect meat. It’s all part of the mutually beneficial relationship that exists between fig wasp and fig plant.”How Stuff Works
So wasps want to be eaten by figs? Kind of.
These fig wasps rely on figs to reproduce. Just like the figs rely on the wasps. They have a mutual relationship that has developed over millions of years of evolution. Basically, to make this as simple as possible, fig wasps lay their eggs in figs.
“The fig plant and the fig wasp both have the same goal: reproduction. For this to happen, a fig plant needs to share its genetic material (in the form of pollen) with another of its kind, and the fig wasp needs a place where its larva can grow and feed. Think of the fig wasp as a tenant, and the fig plant as a landlord who takes payment in the form of pollen.”How Stuff Works
Figs are all either female or male. Male figs are caprifigs while female figs are edible figs. A female wasp’s goal is to find a caprifig, enter it and lay her eggs inside it. Then:
“The eggs will grow into larvae, which will develop into male and female wasps. After hatching, the blind, wingless male wasps will spend the remainder of their lives digging tunnels through the fig. The female wasps then emerge through these tunnels and fly off to find a new fig — carrying precious pollen with them.”How Stuff Works
Since the wasps can’t identify the gender of the fig, they will sometimes enter a female fig. They cannot survive in a female fig and will die a pretty horrible, slow death from exhaustion after failing to lay her eggs. As sad as this is, this is what pollinates the fig and ultimately results in a delicious fruit.
Can You See or Taste the Wasps?
No. If we found wasp remains in our half-eaten figs, this article would be useless because all this would be common knowledge.
“The fig basically digests the dead insect, making it a part of the resulting ripened fruit. The crunchy bits in figs are seeds, not anatomical parts of a wasp. Fig farmers want to keep the number of wasps entering edible figs to an acceptable minimum. To prevent this, farmers separate male and female trees over great distances. Farmers also supply a controlled number of new wasps.”How Stuff Works
I Am Never Eating Figs Again
Why? Because you don’t want to eat insects? Then I suggest becoming a Breatharian and surviving purely on air and light. No, please don’t try that and then sue me. You can’t survive without food and water. But there are people who believe they can. I’ll tackle that fun topic another time but you can read about that here.
Humans accidentally eat bugs all the time. If you drink beer, eat bread, fruits or vegetables, you are consuming insects no matter how much roundup is used during farming. But hey, it’s not a bad thing! Entomophagy, or eating insects, is done all over the world and has lots of health benefits. You can read all about that here.
According to some sources, we eat almost two pounds of insects a year. This may not be 100% accurate, but seriously, we accidentally eat bugs all the time. So if you love figs, don’t feel obligated to stop because of a natural process that they go through. By the way, I do follow a mostly plant-based diet and the debate about whether vegans should eat figs is super controversial. I’m not here to force wasp-filled figs down your throat; just to give you the facts!
Okay, I am actually craving figs now. I guess I’m a weirdo. But come on, caramelized figs are to die for! You can buy some sun-dried Turkish figs here, or you can try some fig spread here and finally for great fig recipes, check out this book.
Don’t forget, I’m the bug-biting, book-binging blogger bitten by the travel bug bite… so check out all my great insect-eating articles! Millions of people eat insects regularly, I swear!