The prickly pear desert flora is from Mexico, effectively unmistakable by the smoothed, oval sharp edges loaded with thistles that describe the plant. Its natural product is plentiful in nutrients and minerals; we should figure it out better! The prickly pear desert plant is an edible cactus with a sweetish taste and is valuable for skin and hair wellbeing. Still, however, it is helpful in diabetes and hypercholesterolemia. We distinguish mainly three varieties of prickly pears :
- The yellow-orange prickly pear ;
- The red-fleshed prickly pear ;
- The white-fleshed prickly pear.
What are the botanical characteristics of prickly pear, its beneficial properties, and how to use it in the kitchen?
Table of Contents
Prickly Pears, The Plant
The prickly pear ( Opuntia ficus indica ) is a delicious plant having a place with the Cactaceae family, which can arrive at 5 meters in level, whose stem is comprised of cladodes (branches changed with the capability and presence of leaves), all the more inappropriately called leaves, with a rugged consistency and a straightened and oval shape called “pale.” It is an arid season-safe plant, developed mainly in Mexico, Peru, and Brazil for food purposes and for delivering the carmine cochineal ( Dactylopius coccus costa ). This bug has a carminic corrosive form from which color is separated, standard red called carmine.
Origin Of The Prickly Pear
The prickly pear plant is native to central Mexico, still today the leading producer in the world, followed by Peru and Brazil. Italy is also one of the top producers and the first European country. Cultivation occurs mainly in Sicily, particularly in Catania, Caltanissetta, and Agrigento. However, a part of Italian prickly pears is also produced in Puglia and Sardinia.
The leaves of the prickly pear, also called pale, are characterized by whitish thorns about 2 cm long and a waxy film that protects them from high temperatures and predators. They are edible and commonly used in the Mexican culinary tradition. Also, they are wealthy in supplements; for example,
- Vitamin C
The Fruits And Seeds
The fruit of the prickly pear is crowned with very thin thorns and is a fleshy berry with a sweet pulp and a variable color from yellow-orange to red and whitish. The fruit is rich in seeds and is mainly composed of water, vitamin C, group B vitamins, and antioxidant molecules, including beta xanthines.
Prickly Pear, Nutritional Values, And Calories
100 g of prickly pear (fruit) provides:
- 53 calories
- Protein 0.8 g
- Lipids 0.1g
- Carbohydrates 13 g
- Sugars 13 g
- Fiber 5 g
Properties Of The Prickly Pear
Prickly pears have numerous beneficial properties; let’s see which are the main ones:
- They’re packed with nutrients, including vitamin C, magnesium, and fiber
- Satiating properties
- Anti-inflammatory properties
- Antioxidant properties
- Antihyperglycemic properties
Prickly Pears Because It’s Good To Eat Them
Here are the main benefits and the reason for eating prickly pears:
- They improve blood sugar and insulin levels
- Promote healthy skin and hair
- Promote liver health
- Counteract oxidative and aging processes
- Counteract inflammatory processes
About 150 g of prickly pears can be eaten daily, equal to a standard portion of fresh fruit. Considering that a prickly pear weighs just around 150 g, the dose can be increased, returning to the daily consumption of 2-3 portions of fresh fruit recommended by the guidelines for a healthy diet.
When Not To Eat Prickly Pears
Consuming prickly pears in the right ways is considered safe. Those with high cholesterol can eat prickly pears, as their high fiber and seed content slows down intestinal absorption. Furthermore, there is a positive correlation between prickly pears and diabetes, which would seem to improve post-prandial blood sugar and insulin levels, thanks to the fiber content. However, it is good to pay attention to the quantities: being rich in fiber and seeds, they could cause gastrointestinal disturbances.
Phytotherapeutic Properties Of Prickly Pear
Prickly pears, thanks to their nutritional characteristics and properties, are used for the treatment of specific ailments :
- For constipation: thanks to the presence of fibers and seeds, they improve intestinal transit;
- For the skin: the pulp of the blades, from which a gel is obtained, is used to promote wound healing;
- For hair: it is used to prepare creams and shampoos to promote growth.
The Uses In The Aztec Tradition
The prickly pear plant is native to Mexico and was already cultivated in Aztec times, from which it was considered sacred. From its fruits, they made a drink used for religious ceremonies. Moreover, they already marketed carmine as a natural dye.
Uses Of Prickly Pear
Prickly pears are grown for two primary purposes :
- Food purpose: although the commercialization of the fruits is more widespread, the shovels are also edible and typically consumed in the Mexican tradition.
- Cochineal production: some prickly pear cultivations are entirely dedicated to producing carmine cochineal, from which a natural red dye is obtained.
Furthermore, prickly pears are also used to produce cosmetics such as emollient creams and shampoos.
Recipes With Prickly Pear
Prickly pears have a sweetish taste that is particularly appreciated for eating fresh fruit and making recipes. Among these, we find:
- Sweet recipes with prickly pears: prickly pear jam, prickly pear juice, tart with prickly pears, smoothies, ice creams, decoction of dried prickly pear flowers, and liqueurs.
- Savory recipes with prickly pears are mainly used to enrich salads and first courses, and in Mexico, the shovels (cleaned and the thorns removed) are especially grilled.
Prickly pears are covered in thorns. Therefore, it is essential to remove them, being careful not to prick yourself.
How To Clean Prickly Pears?
- Collect and touch prickly pears with gloves ;
- Place them in a bowl covered with water and leave them to soak for at least 45 minutes: the soaking will serve to soften the thorns;
- Drain and rinse the prickly pears under running water in a colander;
- To peel the prickly pears, it will be sufficient to place them on a cutting board and make an incision along the length with a knife: using a fork, you can hold the fruit still and gently remove the peel.