What are Prickly pear (Cactus fruit)?
Prickly pear, also known as cactus fruit, is a fruit that grows on the prickly pear cactus. It is native to the Americas, where it has been used for food and medicine for thousands of years. The fruit is characterized by its unique appearance, which includes a prickly exterior and a sweet, juicy interior.
The scientific name for the prickly pear cactus is Opuntia. There are over 200 species of Opuntia cacti, but the most commonly cultivated species for fruit production are Opuntia ficus-indica and Opuntia stricta.
The prickly pear cactus and its fruit have many different names depending on the region. In Spanish-speaking countries, it is known as Tuna or Nopal, while in Italy it is called fichi d’India. In India, it is referred to as Nagfani or Nagphani.
Prickly pear cactus can be found in arid and semi-arid regions of the Americas, including the southwestern United States, Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America. It is also grown in other regions of the world with similar climates, such as the Mediterranean and Middle East.
The prickly pear cactus typically grows up to 5 meters tall and has flat, oval-shaped pads covered in spines. The fruit grows from the edges of the pads and varies in color from green to red or purple. The fruit is typically around 5-10 cm in length and has a sweet, juicy interior filled with small seeds.
Status (eg Natural, Hybrid or GMO):
Prickly pear cactus is a natural species that has been cultivated for thousands of years. There are no known hybrid or genetically modified varieties of prickly pear.
Species of prickly pear
There are several species of prickly pear (cactus fruit) that are found throughout the Americas and other parts of the world, let’s look at some known and wild species below:
List of known species
List of some known species of prickly pear (cactus fruit) include:
- Opuntia ficus-indica
- Opuntia stricta
- Opuntia humifusa
- Opuntia basilaris
- Opuntia engelmannii
Wild species of prickly pear
The wild species of prickly pear cactus are found throughout the Americas and include Opuntia robusta, Opuntia aciculata, and Opuntia fragilis.
Benefits of prickly pear
There are many benefits to prickly pear (cactus fruit), and we can benefit by consuming more of this fruit.
Mineral content (Nutrition)
Prickly pear fruit is a good source of fiber and antioxidants. It also contains minerals such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
Prickly pear cactus and its fruit have been used in traditional medicine for a variety of purposes. Some of the reported health benefits of prickly pear include:
- Lowering blood sugar levels
- Reducing inflammation
- Promoting wound healing
- Improving digestion
- Supporting liver health
Prickly pear fruit is commonly used in a variety of culinary dishes in the Americas, including salads, salsas, jams, and candies. The fruit can be eaten fresh, but it is often cooked or blended into drinks such as juice or smoothies. In Mexico, the pads of the prickly pear cactus are also eaten as a vegetable, known as nopales.
Research information for prickly pear
There is ongoing research into the potential health benefits of prickly pear cactus and its fruit. Some studies have suggested that prickly pear may have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-diabetic properties.
Prickly Pear Recipes
Prickly Pear Salad
1/2 cup diced prickly pear fruit
2 cups mixed greens
1/4 cup crumbled nut cheese
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp alkaline sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
- In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lime juice, salt, and pepper to make the dressing.
- In a large bowl, combine the mixed greens, prickly pear fruit, and nut cheese.
- Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss well to combine.
- Serve and enjoy!
Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit Topping
– 2 cups fresh prickly pear cactus fruit, peeled and chopped
– 1/2 cup date sugar
– 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
– 1/4 cup water
– 2 tablespoons agave
– 1/4 teaspoon ground anise
– Pinch of salt
1. In a medium saucepan, combine the prickly pear cactus fruit, date sugar, lime juice, and water. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
2. Reduce the heat to low, add the agave, anise, and salt, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Remove from heat and let cool.
4. Serve as a topping for vegan ice cream, oatmeal or pound cake. Enjoy!
– Arizona State University. (n.d.). Opuntia spp. Retrieved from https://cals.arizona.edu/yavapai/anr/hort/byg/archive/opuntia.html
– University of Arizona. (n.d.). Prickly Pear. Retrieved from https://cals.arizona.edu/fps/sites/cals.arizona.edu.fps/files/cotw/Opuntia_ficus-indica.pdf
– USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. (2019). Prickly pears, raw. Retrieved from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169141/nutrients