Prickly pear: nutrition facts and health benefits

Prickly pear

Prickly pear is originally from Central America and was brought back to the Mediterranean by the Spaniards. Adapting even to the most arid climates, it quickly flourished throughout the Mediterranean basin, even spreading to Asia. While the Aztecs were very familiar with its therapeutic benefits, modern Western medicine was gradually rediscovering its many beneficial properties.

History of prickly pear

Fruit of a cactus, the prickly pear is named “tunas” in the Mexican desert, from which it comes from. Brought back to Europe by Christopher Columbus on his first trip to the New World, the Mexican cactus quickly acclimated to all the Mediterranean shores. This fruit can grow in arid regions and easily adapts to very dry and poor soils.

The Tequila Fig Tree

Rich in sugars, the fruits of the Cactaceae family, including the Barbary pear, are also used to produce fermented beverages or alcohols, including the famous tequila. Other varieties of prickly pears are used in the industry. One of these varieties was used to raise the cochineal, a tiny insect which, once crushed, provides a quality red dye. This technique was already used four centuries before our era.

Did you know?

The name “prickly pear” originates from the name given in the Middle Ages to the Maghreb coasts, where the fruit has been particularly well established.

In North Africa, it bears the name of Karmouss Nssara, which means the “Fig of Christians”.

5 benefits of prickly pear:

1. An immune system booster: a single prickly pear contains more than a third of all your daily vitamin C needs. Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C plays an important role at the level of the immune system, stimulating the production of white blood cells and acting as an antioxidant in the body.

2. Strengthens bones and teeth: calcium is an integral part of our diet, and the prickly figs contain a significant amount. Calcium is a very important element in bone tissue in the body. In fact, 99% of the calcium in your body is in the bones and teeth. By making sure you have enough calcium in your system, you can prevent various dental problems, as well as age-related bone diseases, such as osteoporosis.

3. Digestive system: prickly figs are high amount of dietary fiber, just like most fruits and vegetables, so these thorny fruits can help you regulate your digestive process. Fibers facilitate the consumption of food into the digestive tract, eliminating constipation, bloating, and more serious gastrointestinal problems, such as colorectal cancer or gastric ulcers.

4. Cardiovascular system: a number of components of the prickly figs make them very good for the cardiovascular system. First, the level of fiber in the fruit can help to reduce the levels of “bad” cholesterol in the body, while the high level of potassium can help reduce blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels, thus reducing the stress on the cardiovascular system. Lowering cholesterol, lowering blood pressure and strengthening blood vessels can prevent atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease and cardiovascular accidents.

5. Cancer prevention: everyone wants to find a miracle cure against cancer, but unfortunately, the best defense against this disease remains to eat a lot of foods containing antioxidants to fight against the effects of free radicals. Prickly figs have a high level of flavonoids, polyphenols and betalaines that all act as antioxidant compounds and neutralize free radicals before they contribute to the mutation of healthy cells into cancerous cells. Studies have shown a lower risk of cancer among people who regularly add these types of antioxidants to their diet.

The prickly pear is the fruit of the prickly pear tree, from the cactus family: originating from Mexico, it was introduced in Europe in the sixteenth century by the Spaniards. This tree plant can measure up to 5 meters high and produces oval shape fruit, weighing between 50 and 400 grams, and whose color can vary from white to red through green and yellow. Its granular flesh contains many small black seeds and its thick skin is bristling with quills. Prickly pears are found in the warm and sunny countries conducive to their culture. This tasty fruit offers a subtle, sweet and slightly sweet flavor: it would gain to be better known in Europe.


How to keep it?

Prickly figs are naturally provided with thorns on the skin. They are usually disposed of spines at the time of purchase. If this is not the case, it should be handled with caution. To taste it, the fig is cut in half lengthwise, and the flesh is taken with the spoon, while taking care removing the seeds. If the fruit still has its quills, it is advisable to grasp it using a fork to manipulate it.

The season of the prickly pear extends from August to November. A ripe prickly pear is recognized in its color, usually orange, but especially with the suppleness of the fruit: be careful that the quills have been removed before touching it! The prickly pear is preserved a few days in the crisper of your refrigerator but must be consumed quickly.

How to consume it?

The prickly pear is very refreshing in summer, thanks to its juicy and sweet pulp. It is a fruit that one eats usually fresh, alone or in fruit salad, nature or flavored with some spices, but it is also possible to cook it in jam, sorbet or fruit paste. If you enjoy the sweet/savory mixes, you can taste the prickly pear accompanied by raw ham.


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