Are figs vegan?
The question may seem irrelevant to non-vegans or those new to the vegan world. However, those committed to vegans for any length of time will likely be aware of the debate around the fig fruit.
In today’s article, we’ll be discussing all the status of fig fruit in the vegan community to determine if figs can fit in a vegan diet or not.
Are Figs Vegan-Friendly?
It’s (apparently) controversial!
Even though fig is a fruit, its status in the vegan community is disputed. Some believe that figs are vegan, while others argue that they do not fit in a truly vegan lifestyle.
Wondering why is there even such a debate over a fruit? Let’s discuss that first to help put things in perspective…
Why Do Some People Consider Figs Non-Vegan?
It may come as a surprise to many, but the reason why some people assert that figs are not suitable for vegans has to do with the natural processes that the fig flowers undergo before they convert into fruits.
Fig trees display a unique flowering pattern. They produce inverted flowers inside pear-shaped pods, called syconium. It’s important to note that each of these pods contains hundreds of tiny fig flowers.
The flowers are enclosed, which means they cannot be pollinated by wind or bees, the traditional way. The fig trees rely on pollinator wasps to do the job. The wasps, on the other hand, are also dependent on fig flowers for their survival.
The female wasps enter the enclosed and inverted fig flowers to lay eggs. However, since the flowers have a very tiny opening, the wasps break off their wings and antenna during the process. As a result, they become unable to come out of the fig flowers and die there only.
As the wasp’s eggs develop into larvae, the male wasps proceed to mate with the female wasps, which later make their way out of the fig flower, carrying much pollen. The new female wasps then fly off to finding new fig flowers to lay eggs. On the other hand, the male wasps are born blind, and without wings, so they cannot escape the fig flower. They spend their entire lifetime and die within the fig flower.
It is due to this natural process that some vegans classify figs as non-vegan. They assert that figs have dead wasps in them!
Why Do Some People Consider Figs Vegan-Friendly, Then? What’s the Counter Argument?
Those on the other side of the spectrum argue that the relationship between fig flowers or fruits and wasps isn’t one-sided. It’s a symbiotic relationship where both the species depend on each other for survival. Just as the fig trees need wasps to pollinate, the wasps also need fig flowers to lay eggs.
They also assert that the death of wasps inside fig flowers isn’t a form of animal cruelty or exploitation. It’s a natural process, and you cannot stop it by avoiding eating figs. Another argument (a fact, actually) that weakens the non-vegan claim is that the female wasps only lay eggs in the male fig flowers. There is no room for them to lay eggs in female fig flowers.
Interestingly, the fig fruits that we consume are produced from female fig flowers – we don’t eat the fruits produced from male fig flowers. So, technically, the fig fruits that we eat are free of wasps altogether.
It’s important to note that while this theory weakens the non-vegan claims, it does not wholly discredit it because experts tell that there can be instances where female wasps mistakenly or accidentally enter the female fig flowers. Since they lose their wings and antenna while going inside, they cannot come back out and die inside without laying eggs. It doesn’t happen very frequently, though!
As far as the remains of dead wasps inside the fig fruits are considered, they do not remain in their natural form.
As the fig flowers convert into fruits, the dead bodies of wasps are dissolved with the help of an enzyme called ficin. So, you won’t technically be eating insects with figs.
Based on these arguments, many plant-eaters classify figs as vegan and are okay with consuming them.
The theory of figs pollinating through wasps gets the most attention because that’s the natural process. However, today, there are several self-pollinating fig cultivars available as well. The majority of the figs that we get from grocery stores, particularly here in the US, come from these self-pollinating fig trees and are entirely “insect-free”.
So, Are Figs Vegan or Not?
The majority of the figs sold in the US come from self-pollinating fig cultivars and are absolutely vegan-friendly.
Don’t take my word for it. Please take a look at what California Figs Advisory Board says about it.
In case you didn’t already know, 98% of the country’s commercial supply of fresh figs and 100% supply of dried figs comes from California.
Regardless of your position on the fig fruit debate in the vegan world, you can safely consume fig fruits from California. Since 99% of the fig trees grown in California are self-pollinating, there is a very slim chance that you would be getting your hands on fig fruits with dead wasps inside them.
If you do not even want to take that 1% of the risk, go for dried figs. All the dried figs available in the grocery stores across the country come from fig trees that wasps do not pollinate.
Don’t let anyone hold you back from enjoying the delicious fig fruit. They are rich in antioxidants and chock full of fiber and a range of other health-beneficial nutrients. Since figs are naturally very sweet, they are also often used as a healthy substitute for sugar.
Pay no heed to the fake information and take full advantage of these nutritionally dense fruits.
It’s important to note here that while (majority of) figs sold in the US are vegan on their own, not all fig products are essentially vegan-friendly. They may contain certain animal-derived ingredients, such as dairy, eggs, gelatin, food flavors, or colors. Therefore, it’s important to check the food labels thoroughly to determine if the product you’re considering buying or eating is vegan.
Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s answer a few common questions people ask about figs and fig products to clear all the confusion around them once and for all…
§ Are Fig Newtons Vegan?
Like most Americans, the first product that figs would make you think of is the Newtons. Fortunately, these everyone’s favorite soft, chewy cookies with fig paste in the center are now vegan-friendly. Take a look at the ingredients list yourself to confirm…
While they do not contain any non-vegan ingredients, there are still a couple of controversial ingredients present in Fig Newtons. These include sugar and palm oil.
Sugar has a controversial status in the vegan world because it’s commercially refined using bone char. The issue regarding the use of palm oil, on the other hand, is more ethical. Refer to my article Are M&M’s Vegan for a detailed discussion on the status of palm oil in the vegan community.
Do you prefer to avoid Fig Newtons due to the controversial ingredients? Satisfy your craving for the sweet cookies by making some for yourself. Check out the following video for a simple vegan fig Newtons recipe…
§ Do all figs have wasps in them?
Not all figs have wasps in them. The fruits obtained from the self-pollinating fig cultivars are completely free of wasps.
As mentioned earlier, 98% of fresh fig fruits and 100% dried figs available in the US are sourced from self-pollinating fig trees grown in California. Simply put, the majority of figs sold commercially in the US do not have wasps in them.
§ Are dried figs vegan?
The answer to this question can vary from person to person. If you consider fig fruits as vegan, you should be okay with consuming dried figs as well. However, if you’re someone who thinks figs are not vegan because of wasps going inside them for laying eggs and dying there, you would want to avoid dried figs as well.
As discussed in the article, the whole wasp theory doesn’t really apply to the fig trees cultivated in the US for commercial purposes. Refer to the previous sections for a detailed discussion on it.
Did you find this article helpful? Are you interested to learn about the vegan status of more naturally sourced items? Check out my article Is Wool Vegan to better understand why most vegans are against its use.