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Figs and almonds in the Algarve

by Sun’s Dragon

It’s not only tourism that funds the Algarve; cork, carobs, figs, almonds and olives contribute heavily to its coffers. Honey, tomatoes, citrus fruits and wine are also up there in the running for bringing in some hard earned pennies (or cents). However, quite apart from the monetary side of things, the sheer beauty of the trees, shrubs and bushes here can be breathtaking.

Figs trees

Fig trees are so adaptable; they can grow in fresh soil or rocky outcrops. They’re drought resistant, using their deep roots to find underground water sources. Found mostly in the Middle East and Mediterranean areas, they thrive in hot, dry and sunny climates. Capable of growing up to ten meters high, their wide leaves serve as a wonderful shade for humans and animals alike. They were introduced to the Algarve by the Moors and are now growing wild everywhere and are a staple of the local diet.

Fig Tree Algarve

The myths

In ancient Greece, when figs were smuggled, informers were called sycophants. The word “sycophant” is used to describe a servile creep or gratuitous flatterer but translated, it literally means, “one who shows the fig”. 

Buddhists believe that Buddha found his enlightenment whilst sitting in the shade of a Bo tree (a kind of fig tree) and therefore it is a symbol of enlightenment.

Adam and Eve covered their nakedness with the large leaves from a fig tree.

Muslims believe the two forbidden trees in the Garden of Eden were the fig and olive.

Fresh Figs Algarve

Figs

These wonderful fruits in the Algarve are either green with a sharp flavour or purple and very sweet. Their sizes range from the equivalent of a small chicken egg to the size of a goose egg, depending on the type. They don’t last long once they’ve been picked so most figs are dried to preserve them. Either way, they are nutritious and delicious. There are many cakes and breads prepared with figs and an abundance of fine confectionary made with them can be found all over the Algarve.

Figs have no cholesterol, no fat and contain vitamins A, B6, C, as well as calcium, iron and magnesium; altogether a very healthy food and full of goodness. In fact, figs and their leaves are said to have several health benefits such as:

  • Dried Figs AlgarveAn aid to weight loss – figs contain a helpful digestive enzyme called ficin. It’s said that eating figs regularly can contribute to a healthy digestive tract that flows properly, thereby providing you with a better ability to move food through your system.
  • An aid for diabetics – it’s actually the fig leaves which have repeatedly been shown to have antidiabetic properties and can reduce the amount of insulin needed by persons with diabetes who require insulin injections.
  • Helping to reduce high blood pressure – figs contain a high level of potassium which has been shown to lower blood pressure.
  • An aid to increase bone density – again the high potassium levels are said to counteract urinary calcium loss, caused by the high-salt diets, thereby helping to prevent bones from thinning out.

There is even Licor de Figo: A light liqueur made from figs!

Almond Tree Algarve

Almond trees

The blossom of the almond trees is simply stunning and where there is an almond grove or wild trees, the scenery has to be seen to be believed. The Algarve excels itself from mid-January when the whole area is transformed into a “winter wonderland” or so it seems. With so much blossom around there has to be an abundance of almonds following and there are!

The nut

There are 86 different species of amendoeiras (almonds) that grow in the Algarve but Portugal is way down on the world production figures, featuring just over 1%. This is quite a surprising figure when you consider just how many almond trees flourish here.

Almonds Algarve

The almond nut contains calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium and vitamin B6; another healthy food for our daily diet. However, I don’t think the Portuguese almond desserts can be classed as such. Marzipan fruits and figures are plentiful, as are almond cakes, pies and biscuits, all of which are very sweet, delicious and fattening!

On saying that, eating the nuts raw or toasted is said to reduce heart problems and cholesterol.

Liqueurs

Here are two liqueurs made in the Algarve from almonds:

Amendoa  a light liqueur made from bitter almonds.

Amarguinha  almond liqueur often combined with lemon.

Scrumping takes on a new meaning when you live in the Algarve; although prices have risen since the introduction of the Euro (haven’t they everywhere), at least here we can get free food by picking the fruit and nuts that grow in the wild!

 

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