Prickly pear, properties and benefits

The prickly pear is a late summer fruit that is becoming more and more common in our kitchen. With a very aggressive appearance on the outside, it keeps a real nutritional treasure inside.

What is prickly pear?

The prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) is a fruit that comes from the cactus family, which is why they are common in arid areas. It is oval or ellipsoidal in shape. Likewise, fine transparent thorns appear on the outside that complicate handling.

The prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) is the fruit of the prickly pear. This plant is also known as prickly pear, nopal, penca, fig tree, or fig tree.

In most varieties of these foods, their skin color is green and it changes to yellow or orange when ripe. In addition, they have a thick skin covered with tiny spines that easily dig into the skin if we handle them without caution.

Also, inside it has a fleshy pulp with a quantity of crunchy seeds. In addition, the pulp has a grainy texture. The color of its pulp also changes according to the variety. The most common are orange, red, purple, to greenish-white.

These foods have a delicious sweet taste with a very particular acid touch that is very refreshing. In addition, it is within the group of sweet fruits such as pomegranates , custard apple , guava , plum or dragon fruit .

Origin of the prickly pear

The prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) is native to the driest and most arid areas of the American continent where the prickly pear grows naturally. It is worth noting the amount of prickly pear crops that currently exist in Mexico where it is a very popular breath used in different recipes.

As with other fruits, it was introduced from America to Europe through Spanish merchants after the conquest of the new world. From Europe, the cultivation of the prickly pear has been moving to regions around the world. It currently grows in many areas with an arid climate.

As a curiosity to comment that it is a very common fruit in coastal areas. Consequently, it has been a very valuable food for boaters for its antiscorbutic and moisturizing properties.

Prickly pear production

The cultivation of this fruit is widely distributed throughout the world. Countries with a dry and arid climate such as Italy, Spain, Chile, Israel, Brazil, Mexico or South Africa are its main producers. However, Mexico is the country that leads the production of this unique fruit with 70% of world production.

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In Spain, they are the regions of the Canary Islands or Andalusia and the Levant such as Almería, Murcia or Valencia.

Prickly Pear Season

The harvest season in Spain runs from July to September , depending on the variety. In this season it is common to find them in our markets.

You can check the calendar of the  fruit season  to be able to consume these foods at their most optimal moment. In addition, when they are in season they provide us with  more benefits for our health, they have a better aroma and are tastier , among other advantages.

How to buy prickly pears?

You can find these figs in any market in your city when they are in season. On many occasions we can see it in street stalls in towns where the prickly pear grows more regularly due to the climate.

They usually come peeled and without thorns. They can also be bought with skin, in this way we increase the conservation time, although the problem is that we have to know how to peel them so as not to nail the thorns.

Conservation

With the skin, the fruit is much better preserved. It can be left in a dry area in the kitchen that is not in direct light. However, the problem is that we have to peel them with the inconvenience of thorns.

We can buy it peeled, it is a highly recommended option for those of us who are not very skilled at peeling these types of fruits . When we buy it peeled, we recommend consuming it the same day or the next day.

If we are not going to consume it the same day, to keep it peeled, we recommend that it be stored in the fridge in our kitchen, separated from other foods for better preservation.

How do you eat prickly pear?

The most common and recommended way to eat these fruits is raw and fresh. It is also used in compotes or to prepare recipes for juices, jellies, jams or ice creams.

It can also be used as an ingredient in savory recipes such as salads or to prepare sauces. In this way we give a sweet touch to our preparations.

Prickly Pear varieties

In relation to the varieties of these fruits, there are different ones that differ in taste and color.

The main varieties are: green, reddish, yellow, and purple. Green is the most abundant in the Mediterranean basin and the tastiest is reddish.

How do you peel prickly pears?

Peeling prickly pears is very simple, although we have to take certain precautions.

The day we want to pearl them, we must first put them in a bucket full of water . Once soaked, remove them with a stick so that the thorns come off and those that do not fall soften.

Then a cut is made at each end and another along the length. Then the skin is peeled off the pulp.

Finally, we have a delicious fruit that we recommend keeping in the fridge before consumption to give it a touch of cold and that will make it more appetizing. We can eat it raw or as an ingredient in different recipes.

Prickly pear properties

Like most fruits, it is rich in water. In addition, it has exceptional nutritional characteristics.

For starters, these figs are rich in fiber and natural sugars. It is also a powerful antioxidant thanks to the vitamin C, flavonoids and tocopherols that it provides.

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Likewise, it is a fruit that provides us with few calories, approximately 41 kcal per 100 grams. They are the same calories as an apple or a pear.

We can also say that it has a very balanced sugar content. Scientific studies show that this fruit has a slight hypoglycemic effect. Consequently, it helps regulate blood sugar in people with type II diabetes.

It also contains vitamins such as A, C and B9 and minerals such as calcium, potassium, phosphorus and sodium.

Average nutritional value per 100 grams of prickly pear

Calories41 kcal
Fats0,5 g
Carbohydrates9,6 gr
Cholesterol0 mg
Sodium5 mg
Water87,55 mg
Protein0,72 g
Vitamin A43 IU
C vitamin14,0 mg
Vitamin B-96 mg
Football56 mg
Potassium220 mg
Match24 mg
Sodium5 mg

Benefits of prickly pear

Prickly pears are very complete fruits, nutritionally speaking. Its consumption is recommended for the whole family both raw and in different recipes.

In addition, it provides us with different benefits of which we can highlight the following:

Supports the immune system

As shown in different studies, eating prickly pears is directly related to the elimination of toxins and antioxidant activity. [1]

This antioxidant activity is due to the amount of vitamin C and E. In addition to its antioxidant function, vitamin C supports our immune system.

Suitable for diabetics

By having a slight hypoglycemic effect, it helps regulate blood sugar in people with type II diabetes.

Satiating effect

Its consumption gives us soluble fiber such as pectins and mucilage that has a satiating effect.

For healthy digestion

For a correct digestive function it is recommended to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. The dietary fiber of the prickly pear can help us in our digestive process.

Regulates intestinal transit

Thanks to the healthy fiber that it provides, it helps us regulate intestinal transit by fighting constipation. As a result, it also helps against bloating and other gastrointestinal problems. [2]

Beneficial for the circulatory system

It provides us with flavonoids, among which they rule out guercitin and routine. These flavonoids help us keep our arteries in good health.

Ideal for weight loss diets

Thanks to its low fat content, large amount of water and the fiber it provides, it is ideal to include in weight loss diets.

Conclusions

We find an ideal fruit to include in our diet for its flavor, aroma, refreshing texture and the benefits it brings us. Try the prickly pear this summer, it is a true delight.

Ellie Lauderdale

My name is Ellie Lauderdale, MD and I am USA based professional Nutritionist .

I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and board certified specialist in sports dietetics who is trained in integrative medicine. I have worked with hundreds of clients, from those suffering with chronic disease to professional and olympian athletes. My goal is to help optimize you from the inside so that you can feel, perform, and look your best on the outside.

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