Can you eat green unripe figs?

Quick Answer

It is generally not recommended to eat unripe green figs. While not necessarily toxic, unripe figs can cause stomach upset and diarrhea due to high latex content. The texture and taste are also unpleasant when figs are not ripe. However, some green fig varieties are bred to be picked and eaten unripe. As long as you choose the right variety, unripe figs can be eaten if harvested at the proper stage of development.

Can You Eat Unripe Figs Safely?

Figs must be allowed to fully ripen on the tree to develop a sweet flavor and tender texture. When figs are picked prematurely, they are often hard, tasteless, and difficult to chew or digest.

Unripe figs contain a milky, sticky latex sap that acts as an irritant and can cause stomach cramps, nausea, and diarrhea when consumed. This sap diminishes as the figs ripen. Eating too many underripe figs could potentially cause issues due to the latex and indigestible components.

However, not all unripe figs are inedible. Some fig varieties are intentionally bred to be picked and consumed before fully ripe. These “supari” or “breba” crop figs have lower latex content when immature and are generally milder in flavor.

As long as you choose the right fig variety harvested at the proper stage of development, green unripe figs can be eaten safely in moderation. Look for fig types marketed as “supari” for eating unripe. Avoid varieties with high latex that need full ripening.

Taste and Texture of Unripe Figs

Fully ripe figs have a soft, smooth, jam-like interior that is sweet and delicious. In contrast, the flesh of unripe figs tends to be dry, tough, and slightly bitter or tasteless.

The high fiber content and latex sap make underripe figs difficult to chew and digest. The skins can be especially rough and abrasive when figs are not mature.

Since they lack the sweetness and tender texture of ripe figs, eating unripe figs is not a very enjoyable experience. At best, the flavor is insipid and the texture is woody. At worst, green figs can irritate your mouth and cause stomach distress.

Allowing figs to fully ripen on the tree results in a soft, sweet fruit that almost melts in your mouth. If you bite into a fig and find it hard, sticky, or lacking in flavor, it needs more time to mature.

When Are Figs Ready to Harvest?

Depending on the variety, figs take two to four months to reach maturity after pollination. Figs will not continue to ripen after picking, so it is important to leave them on the tree until they are fully ripe and ready for eating.

Signs that figs are ready for harvesting include:

  • Softness and flexibility when gently squeezed
  • Noticeable droop and neck bending
  • Dull, matte skin color
  • Cracks, splits, or tiny drops of syrup at the bottom
  • Pleasantly sweet aroma

Avoid harvesting figs that are still hard and upright with glossy, bright skin. These unripe figs will be low in sugar with a tough, rubbery texture.

The exact harvest time depends on the fig variety, climate, and growing conditions. Get familiar with when your particular figs are ripe for optimal flavor and texture.

Eating Unripe Figs from Certain Varieties

Most fig varieties are best allowed to fully ripen on the tree before eating. However, there are some fig types specially bred to be picked and consumed while still unripe.

Known as “supari”, “breba”, or “noa” figs, these varieties produce a small early crop of figs that do not need full ripening. Supari figs have lower latex content and milder flavor when green compared to other fig types.

Common supari fig varieties include:

  • Desert king
  • Black mission (first crop)
  • Peters honey
  • Sierra
  • Neveralla

These figs can be picked when the fruit reaches full size but is still firm and green. Although not quite as sweet or soft as ripe figs, supari types are pleasantly edible at this immature stage.

To safely eat unripe figs, stick to supari or breba varieties harvested at the proper phase of development. Avoid unripe main crop figs high in latex.

Using Unripe Figs in Cooking and Baking

While unpleasant and potentially harmful eaten raw, unripe figs can be incorporated into cooked items. Cooking helps break down the indigestible latex and fiber.

Some ways to use unripe figs in recipes:

  • Cook into jam, preserve, or fruit spread
  • Chop and use in baked goods like muffins, breads, and cakes
  • Puree into smoothies, sauces, or chutney
  • Poach in syrup and use as topping for yogurt or ice cream
  • Dice and add to oatmeal or granola

Cooking improves the texture of underripe figs and allows the flavor to mellow into something more palatable. Heat also degrades the problematic latex compounds.

While cooked green figs are fine to eat, raw unripe figs are still best avoided when possible due to their harshness. Letting figs fully ripen results in a far superior texture and sweetness.

Health Benefits of Ripe Vs. Unripe Figs

Fully ripe figs provide significant health benefits from their unique nutritional profile. These include:

  • High fiber for digestive and heart health
  • Potassium to support nerve function
  • Polyphenols and antioxidants that may fight inflammation and disease
  • Micronutrients like calcium, magnesium, and B vitamins

Allowing figs to ripen maximizes these positive attributes. Unripe figs are lower in sugar and calories, but they also have not yet developed their full concentration of nutrients.

The indigestible latex and fiber compounds in green figs may even inhibit nutrient absorption. Additionally, irritants in the latex can harm gastrointestinal health when large amounts are consumed.

For the best nutrition and experience, let your figs hang on the tree until completely ripe before eating them fresh. Unripe figs are better suited for cooked applications instead of raw consumption.

Risk of Toxicity from Unripe Figs

There are species of fig trees with toxic or irritant substances that diminish as the fruit ripens. However, common edible fig types like Brown Turkey and Black Mission are not toxic when unripe.

That said, the latex sap and fiber content of underripe garden figs can cause unpleasant stomach and intestinal issues. Diarrhea or vomiting may occur from eating too many green figs.

Dried figs are sometimes treated with preservatives that allow them to be consumed when still unripe. But fresh raw figs must be ripe for safe eating.

While not necessarily dangerous, the unpleasant effects make unripe figs unappetizing and not worth eating. Let figs mature fully on the tree for optimal flavor, texture, and nutrition.

Can You Ripen Figs After Picking?

Unlike some fruits, figs do not continue ripening once removed from the plant. Picked green, a fig will simply shrivel and dry out rather than sweetening or softening.

Exposing picked unripe figs to ethylene gas will not stimulate further ripening. Any apparent softening is due to water loss, not actual maturation of the fruit.

There are chemical sprays claiming to enhance ripening in picked figs. However, these products cannot truly replace ripening on the tree and may introduce unwelcome residues.

For the best quality and flavor, always allow figs to fully ripen before harvesting. Pick figs only once they display signs of maturity like softening and drooping. Avoid prematurely picking hard, green figs and expecting them to ripen.

Should You Refrigerate Unripe Figs?

Refrigeration can temporarily extend the shelf life of firm unripe figs by slowing water loss and spoilage. However, this will not make the figs any sweeter or more palatable.

Once harvested and chilled, figs will not ripen further regardless of refrigeration. Any softening is due to breakdown of tissues, not actual maturation.

Refrigerating unripe figs may help preserve them for use in cooked applications like baking. But it will not improve their quality or make them suitable for fresh eating.

For raw consumption, only harvest ripe figs that can be enjoyed immediately without refrigeration. Use underripe figs quickly in recipes requiring cooking to make them more usable.

Preserving Unripe Figs

Since figs do not ripen after picking, unripe figs will need preservation to extend their shelf life for use. Possible options include:

  • Canning – Process unripe figs in a hot water bath canner with added sugar or honey. The heat will soften the latex and fruit. Store in an airtight jar up to a year.
  • Drying – Place unripe fig slices on dehydrator racks or baking sheets to dry. May need pretreating with an alkaline solution to neutralize latex. Rehydrate later and use in cooking.
  • Freezing – Blanch firm green figs briefly to deactivate enzymes, then freeze in a single layer on a pan before transferring to bags. Use within a year.
  • Pickling – Steep unripe figs in a pickling liquid with vinegar, salt, and spices. Keeps up to 3 months refrigerated.

Proper preserving improves the usefulness of unripe figs in various culinary applications. Canned, dried, pickled, or frozen green figs can be substituted in any recipe calling for cooked figs.

Enjoy figs fresh only when ripe. Take advantage of preservation to make use of unready figs harvested early or overabundant fruit.

What to Do With Too Many Unripe Figs

An over productive fig tree may set more fruit than can fully ripen before frost. Cool temperatures and limited light in fall also inhibit maturation. So what should you do with green figs left on the tree at season’s end?

Here are some options if dealing with numerous unripe figs:

  • Leave any larger figs on the tree as long as possible to continue ripening. Cold weather concentrates sugars.
  • Pick all remaining fruit once leaves begin falling and overnight temperatures drop below 45°F.
  • Discard any shriveled or damaged figs.
  • Process usable unripe figs into jam, fruit leather, or pickles.
  • Dry on dehydrator racks to enjoy as tasty snacks during winter.
  • Blanch then freeze extras to add to recipes later in the year.

Turn your late season green fig glut into delicious products to savor over the colder months. With some time and creativity in the kitchen, a bounty of unripe figs doesn’t need to go to waste.


While not recommended for fresh eating, unripe green figs can be utilized if you choose the right variety and handling method. Supari-type figs are bred to be picked green, and cooking makes the texture and flavor more palatable. Preserving unripe figs also allows you to make use of excess fruits.

For the best eating experience, always allow standard fig varieties to ripen fully on the tree. Figs will not sweeten or soften further after harvest, so only pick fruit that feels tender and displays other signs of maturity. Aim to harvest ripe figs that can be consumed immediately fresh without requiring any processing or cooking.

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