Fig syrup or συκόμελο (miele di ficchi in Italian) is a product waiting in the wings to be discovered. It’s got a lot going for it. It’s as pure and natural as products get—just figs and water. The syrupy nectar is not honey at all, but rather the reduction of the liquid in which figs have been boiled. The raw material—the figs cultivated in the Taxiarchis area of the island of Northern Evia—are of high quality (the region’s dried figs have been recognized as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product by the EU). And it’s mythically delicious.
Fig honey is still very much an artisanal product in Greece, put out, as far as I could discover, by only one local micro-producer, Ourania Mouseti (though obviously households through rural Greece make their own fig honey). Although the product could probably benefit from the kind of award-winning food-packaging design done by such Greek firms as Red Dot, mousegraphics and K2, there’s an element of charm in the fact that the fig honey is hand-bottled and sealed with a wax-coated cork, and the label for the expiration date is filled out by hand. But I’m not sure how well that can scale.
It’s not likely to make it to the big-time gastronomic Broadway that Greek feta, yoghurt and (to a lesser extent) olive oil have managed to break into, but the product has potential. Granted, it’s very much a niche product, but the niche is already there: cooks both professional and amateur, food enthusiasts, and health-conscious consumers on the lookout for natural sweeteners, the same people who drove the market for things like balsamic vinegar glaze and grape-must syrup. This honey-like concentrated essence of figs has numerous applications in the kitchen—in vinaigrettes, barbecue sauces and marinades, or a glaze for roast meats or a topping for custards, yoghurt and ice cream, drizzled over ricotta or used as a finishing element for sauces and an ingredient in cookies (as is the case in Italy).
And this market is still relatively competitor-free. Although fig syrup from Provence and Italy is available in delicatessens and online, in the great majority of cases the product has such added ingredients as sugar, spices and other flavoring. That said, there are a number of Italian firms that produce true fig honey. But why not a land like Greece that’s renowned for its figs? Unfortunately, Mouseti’s fig honey still has a very limited production run and a tiny distribution market. I managed to find mine at the Mediterranean Food Store (Το Παντοπωλείο της Μεσογειακής Διατροφής, Sofokleous 1, 210 3628738) but nowhere else in Athens.
I can only conjecture why this is so. Private venture capital in Greece is tight, and official state incentives even more so. Credit for investments from Greek banks has all but dried up, though this may change in the near future if the recapitalization of Greek banks proceeds as hoped. Another reason may be the actual return on investment. It takes a lot of figs to make this syrup (count on at least 1.5k of fruit for 220 g. of syrup), and it simply may not make sense to expand production for the honey when better margins are to be made in dried figs, jams, and fig paste. Though with the appropriate marketing and packaging, the product could command a price high enough for the producer to recover costs and earn a modest profit. After all, this fig honey is pure ambrosia, and who wouldn’t pay a bit extra for the food of gods!