Figs: Are They Vegan?

The list of surprisingly non-vegan foods is lengthier than some would have you believe. Certain beers, for instance, use fish bladders as a filter. Candies colored red often contained a dye made from beetles. And put down the burrito…refried beans may contain lard. As for the newest contender… enter figs.

Figs are particularly surprising as a possibly non-vegan food because they seem so, well, naturally non-animal. Beer, candy and even refried beans aren’t all that surprising, as they’re somewhat processed before landing on your plate. Figs, on the other hand, contain animal products before you even pull a fruit off the tree. The source of the issue actually lies within the fruit itself… you see, edible figs can contain at least one dead female wasp per fruit.

Don’t Panic!

Before you start worrying if all of those figgy puddings are actually crawling with wasps, let’s set the record straight.

While it’s true that all edible figs contain at least one dead female wasp, an enzyme known as ficin breaks down the carcass long before it reaches your plate. In essence, the fig digests the wasp. This process can be compared, in some respects, to similar pollination processes for other flowering plants. While you don’t ingest a bee every time you eat an apple, bees play roles in the pollination of these plants.

So… Are They Vegan?

The answer as to whether figs are vegan or not is more personal than anything else. Some vegans and even some vegetarians refuse to eat figs or fig-based products based on this odd — but entirely natural! — phenomenon.

In essence, the argument boils down to the idea of cruelty. The relationship between figs and fig wasps is a symbiotic, entirely natural one. Fig wasps need figs, and figs need fig wasps. Neither would continue to thrive without the other. Because of this natural relationship, many vegetarians and vegans choose to consume figs. Whether or not you choose to integrate them into your diet is entirely up to you.

But Bear in Mind…

Before removing figs from your diet entirely, do consider the pros to eating figs: they have been known to help boost fertility in women, and they’re mineral powerhouses, packed full of calcium and potassium. They’re a healthy replacement for sugar, and, of course, they’re delicious in recipes like our very own fig and frangipani tart or fig jam.

When it comes to figs, whatever you decide, just be sure to be informed first… there are no wrong answers when it comes to building a diet that fits your physical, emotional, spiritual and philosophical needs.

Image: Rhino Neal

Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco