For The Love of Fig Newtons
Taste comparisons, history, and FAQ about these tasty treats.
How it all began:
I never imagined that one day I'd become a fig newton fanatic. It happened quite by accident.
One day while shopping for groceries I happened to pass through the cookie department and out of the corner of my eye spotted a package of fig newtons. I hadn't had any in years and on a whim purchased some. As soon as I got home I ripped open the bag, took a bite of one... and almost gagged.
It was terrible: dry, crumbly and tasteless. In disgust I started to throw the rest of the bag away then froze. Somewhere from the deepest recesses of my memory came a recollection of the fig newtons of childhood: moist, tender, succulent and sweet with rich figgy flavor. That was the cookie I wanted. I decided then and there to find it.
Placing the offensive newtons just purchased in a plastic bag to keep them from drying out any more, if that was possible, I ventured out into the world to purchase as many brands of fig newtons as I could, hoping one of them would live up to the sweet memories of youth.
Visiting five different grocery store chains and a health food store turned up 14 varieties of fig newtons.
Enlisting the help of several relatives. we compared them to see which were the best. The following results shows what we discovered:
Regular Fig Bars
From left to right: Nabisco, Stator Bros., Walmart, Healthy Valley Fig Cobbler.
Nabisco Original Fig Newtons: very dry with a weak fig flavor.
Stator Bros.: Moister, but still too dry. They also had a faint aromatic note of strawberries.
Walmart: (Great Value house brand) the moistest with the strongest, purest fig taste. Best in this group. SAD UPDATE!!! In 2015, Walmart dropped the Great Value brand and replaced it with the greatly inferior Homekist brand. This new fig newton has a foul chemical aroma and taste that several testers found disgusting.
Healthy Valley Fig Cobbler: Moist, grainy with a hint of oatmeal.
Whole Grain/Whole Wheat
Left to right: Nabisco Whole Grain Newtons, Eating Right Whole Wheat,
Eating Right Whole Grain, Barbara's Whole Wheat
Nabisco Whole Grain: Very gritty with a weak fig flavor.
Eating Right (Von's House Brand) Whole Wheat: Tough, bland.
Eating Right Whole Grain: Not too dry and the fig flavor was okay but overall this isn't a great cookie. Best in this group.
Barbara's Whole Wheat: The moistest but they had a strong molasses flavor that developed into a sour aftertaste.
Newman's Own Fig Newman on the left, Barbara's Low Fat on the right
Newman's Own Low Fat Fig Newmans (Not Newton): Moist, but it had an odd non-fig note that was a put off. Best in this group.
Barbara's Low Fat: Too moist, almost soggy, and it tasted overly sweet with a strong apple flavor.
Nabisco Fat Free left, Eating Right Fat Free right
Nabisco Fat Free: Good flavor but very dry. Best in this Group.
Eating Right Fat Free: Hard, tough, harsh after taste.
Newman left, Barbara's right
Newman's Own Wheat Free and Dairy Free: A little dry with an odd chemical note.
Eating Right Wheat Free: Doughy, weak fig flavor. Best in this group.
Comparing the winners from each group showed that the plain Walmart house brand was the over-all winner. However, everyone agreed that even this Fig Newton left much to be desired. It seemed that Fig Newtons tasted better as a memory than in reality. Everyone in the panel was disappointed.
I decided fig newton from my youth never really existed. Time had somehow sweetened the memory to a cookie that never existed. I was about to be proved wrong.
One day after the disappointing taste test I visited a newly opened Super-Target. Out of curiosity I strolled through the cookie aisle and discovered a 15th here-to-fore untested brand of fig newton: Market Pantry.
Discouraged but willing to try one more variety for the sake of completeness, I purchased some. Once home I reluctantly opened the package and forced myself to take a bite of one of the smaller-than-average fig newtons, certain it was going to be bland and dry like all the others.
One chew and my mouth exploded with rich, figgy flavor. The cookie was lusciously moist without being soggy and had a clean, pure, strong fig flavor that left a wonderfully satisfying aftertaste. This was the sweet, succulent fig newton of youthful memories.
This brand was, after the other taste-test panel members had a chance to try it, enthusiastically nominated as not only the best variety of all but as good or better than any fig newton any of them could remember.
Over the next few days I admit to consuming more of these delicious treats than I should have. But, in so doing learned something remarkable: it's hard to overdose on good fig newtons. There is something unique about their flavor that fills one with a sense of well being more than any other cookie. When at their best, they have enough flavor to satisfy yet, unlike high-end chocolate chip cookies, aren't so overpowering that after a few of them you get sick of them.
As more time passed I discovered that even more than good chocolate, to which I am also addicted, top-quality fig newtons have the power to impart a sense of happy well-being. Sad? Tired? Depressed? Mad? Try a handful of Market Pantry brand fig newtons and see if you don't feel better. (Note: I don't own stock in either Target or Market Pantry and no one asked or paid me to say these things.)
Important Update: Several months after posting this page I noticed that the Market Pantry fig newtons started tasting different. The fig flavor was weaker and there was an almost citrusy note that suggested lemon juice had been added. The cookies didn't seem as moist as they used to be either. Repeated tests show this new formulation appears to be permanent. This elevates Walmart's Fig Bars to the number one spot. If properly rehydrated, they are excellent by any standard. Rehydrated doesn't help the new Market Pantry cookies.
Fig newton history and facts:
Considering that fig newtons are the third most popular commercially made cookie in the world, ranking just below first-ranked Oreos and second-place chocolate chip cookies, it's surprising that their origin is clouded with uncertainty. Extensive googling turned up four versions for how fig newtons came into being:
1. Mr. Charles Rosen owned a cookie company in Kenton, Ohio. Sometime in the 1890s he developed and produced the fig newton. In 1910 he sold his company and the rights to the fig newton to Nabisco, who mass produced it.
2. Charles Rosen created the design for fig newtons and sold it directly to the Kennedy Biscuit Company, later to become Nabisco, who used a new continuous-stream, filled-cookie making machine designed by James Henry Mitchell to produce the cookie, releasing it on 1891.
3. In 1891 James Henry Mitchell, a Kennedy Biscuit Company employee, created both the fig newton and cookie-making machine that made its mass production feasible.
4. Charles Rosen was an employee of Kennedy Biscuit Company when he developed the cookie for it.
I could not find enough support data for any of these stories to recommend one over the other. They all agree that fig newtons were an American creation and have been with us well over a century.
While there is a rumor that these cookies, originally called "newtons," later changed to fig newtons and finally to fig newton cookies, where named after the famous physicist Sir Isaac Newton, this is incorrect. At the time of their mass introduction by the Kennedy Biscuit Company, the company had the tradition of naming its products after towns close to its Massachusetts factory. Two towns were under consideration: Newton and Shrewsbury. Newton won. (Fortuitous for us, try saying "Fig Shrewsburies" five times fast.)
The word "fig" was added to the cookie's name after many favorable reviews were published about the fig filling.
People in the US eat over 1,000,000,000 fig newtons every year.
January 16 is National Fig Newton Day. (It's also National Freedom of Religion Day.)
Tricks for improving fig newtons:
1. One way to improve Fig Newtons is to cut the bottoms off two of them...
...and gently mush the tops together to create a double-filled Newton:
The result is very moist with a strong fig flavor. Since the tops of fig newtons are softer than the bottoms, this also makes for a more tender cookie.
2. Dry newtons are the bane of any fig newton lover. Unfortunately, dry cookies are the rule rather than the exception. You can avoid this to some extent by carefully selecting which packages to purchase. First, don't assume that the packages of cookies in the rear of the display are the freshest. While most restockers put the newest packages in the rear to ensure proper cycling of the product, many times the stockers get hurried or just don't care and stuff the new cookies in the front of the display. It's safer to check the "sell by" or "best if used before" dates and chose those with the dates furthest from the current date. Even this can fail because quality varies from one production run to the next. An earlier "use by" date may actually contain drier cookies than a later one. By far the best way to check for moistness is to use the "stroke test."
Lightly rub your fingers over the top of the package. It the cookies inside are moist they will stick to the plastic packaging and show up as dark areas, as indicated in the picture above by the arrows. Dry cookies won't stick as much or not at all.
3. Even with this test and buying the best brand available, the fig newtons may still be a little dry. Fortunately, this is easy to fix.
This is a photo of my fig newton re-hydrator. It's a large, shallow plastic container with moistened sponges on the bottom and a rack over them to keep the cookies from touching them. (A layer of damp paper toweling also works well.) Once covered, water evaporating from the sponges quickly raises the humidity to 100-percent. This slowly and gently moisturizes the cake part of the fig newton making them as moist and succulent as desired. How long you leave them in the re-hydrator depends on how moist you prefer your fig newtons. I find 24 hours is perfect, longer and they get a little soggy, shorter and they may still be a little crumbly. The time also depends on how moist the fig newtons were initially. Drier newtons may take and extra couple of hours.
Once the cookies are re-hydrated to the desired level, move them to a tightly-sealed container to keep them at peak eating condition. The following video shows the rehydrator in live action:
There are two important things to remember when re-hydrating cookies. First, cleanliness is critical. Pathogens in the air and on hands can quickly grow in the moist conditions inside either the re-moisturizer or the container where the cookies are later stored. Make sure everything is as clean as possible. Second, no matter how careful you are, some pathogens will find their way onto to cookies or into the containers. Mold, in particular, can be a problem so store the cookies for as little time as possible, certainly no longer than a few days. Always check cookies for any sign that they may have gone bad.
4. Re-moisturizing fig newtons has a profound impact on their flavor. They taste sweeter and much figgier.
5. Personally, although it extends their shelf life I don't like to store fig newtons in refrigerators. The reduction in temperature has much the same effect as letting them dry out. It locks up the moisture so the cookies seem drier.
6. In spite of the comments in the preceding paragraph, I do enjoy frozen fig newtons. I cut each one in thirds and freeze them sealed in plastic bags. The result is an interesting, chewy texture. Cutting the fig newtons in thirds first ensures that the pieces are small enough to chew easily. Larger pieces are tough to bite through.
I'll be the first to admit that fig newtons are insignificant in the grander scheme of things. Yet, they have the power to lighten the heart and can do so at very little expense. Discovering a really great tasting brand has, in a small way, improved the quality of my life to a degree far out of proportion to their actual insignificance. I can't imagine a life without them now, and I'm sure that anyone who tries a properly rehydrated fig newton will find the same to be true for them.
I sincerely hope you found this page helpful or at least fun to read. Thank you for visiting and please give my main site a try where you can browse 100 other topics ranging from exotic kaleidoscope designs to the strange world of lucid dreaming.