Figs are a member of the mulberry family and are believed to have been cultivated in Egypt. They became a staple foodstuff in ancient Greece and were held in such esteem that the Greeks created laws forbidding the export of the best quality figs. In ancient Rome, figs were considered sacred fruit. Figs were brought to the western hemisphere by the Spanish, and today California is one of the largest producers of figs in addition to Turkey, Greece, Portugal, and Spain.
I discovered figs when doing some research on middle eastern diets, and came upon an entry of a 19th century English traveler who learned that the prized Arabian horses were fed dates, and figs mixed in camel’s milk before a race.
Figs are high in fiber, but they are also high in carbohydrates, so not the best treat choice for a metabolic horse. For a non-metabolic horse, figs provide vitamin A, vitamin B-1, vitamin B-2, calcium, iron, phosphorus, manganese, and the electrolytes: sodium, potassium, and chloride. Figs also provide omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.
Figs are a great alternative to sugar cubes and molasses-coated treats because of the fiber content, manganese levels, and naturally occurring enzymes. The fiber content can help slow the release of the fruit sugars, while the enzymes help to pre-digest the fruit, thus lowering the enzymatic stress in the digestive tract. Manganese is a coenzyme that is involved with bone formation, thyroid function, formation of connective tissues, calcium absorption, blood sugar regulation, and fat and carbohydrate metabolism.
To use figs as a treat, they must be de-stemmed. I cut the figs into smaller pieces and feed them by hand or just add them in the feed. Figs are a good choice for horses that need a little more energy, and are good to have on hand at a show when you want to make sure your horse is getting enough balanced electrolytes.
Fresh figs are preferable over dried figs for horses. While the protein levels increase 2 times in dried figs, so do the carbohydrates and sugars. Dried figs may be treated with sulfur dioxide and or sulfites to extend their shelf life. You want to avoid sulfites for horses that have allergies or COPD. Organic dried figs do not contain sulfates.
Now if I could just lay my hands on some camels’ milk, I’d love to give the Bedouin recipe a try!