Sorry To Break It To You, But There’s Probably A Dead Wasp In That Fig You’re Eating
Hold on to your fruit baskets, folks, because I’m about to drop the biggest fruit fact since you found out tomatoes aren’t actually vegetables: There’s a good chance that there’s actually a dead wasp in every fig you eat.
Let me explain.
First of all, it turns out that, technically speaking, figs aren’t actually a fruit; they’re inverted flowers. The fig tree flower blooms in a pod which later develops into the fruit we eat, but since it’s enclosed within that pod, regular bees and wind can’t help pollinate them. So they get help from the fig wasp.
Before we get into it, we should also clarify that there are male figs (called capri figs) and female figs (the ones we eventually eat). In order for the female figs to become a delicious fruit, they need some pollen from the male figs, and this is where the wasps come in, literally.
Pregnant female fig wasps enter the male capri figs through a tiny hole on the bottom. It’s so tiny, in fact, that the female wasp’s antennae and wings break off so she gets stuck in there after giving birth. Then, the baby figs hatch and the males mate with the females (yes, this is pretty incest-y—but they’re bugs, not ‘Game of Thrones’ characters, so we can let it slide). Then the female kids crawl out of tunnels made by their wing-less brothers, gathering pollen on their journey, and fly off to find a fig of their own to burrow into.
The problem is that when a female fig wasp chooses a fig, she has no idea if it’s a male capri fig that’s perfectly shaped for her to give birth in, or if it’s a female fig that is perfectly shaped for her to get stuck and die in.
The good news is, thanks to a special chemical in figs called ficin, if a female fig wasp does get stuck in a female fig, a special fig enzyme breaks her body down and absorbs it into the fruit as added protein. Yum!
There is more good news, too. California grows a special variety of independent self-pollinating female figs that don’t need fig wasps at all. And a good portion of figs sold in U.S. grocery stores are grown in California, so there’s a fairly good chance you could find one of these wasp-less figs if you tried.
So if that hasn’t totally turned you off figs, I’d recommend these goat cheese-stuffed figs with pistachios and balsamic glaze, because they’re fabulous—dead wasp or not.
All photos from Getty Images