Cactus fruit: What are the benefits?

The cacti are generous not only with flowers but also with the fruits. Many, in fact, have eatable fruits and the indigenous tribes have learned to feed themselves with them over time.

This is the case, for example, of the fruits of Cereus, round and tasty, or Saguaro, usual food of the native tribes that inhabit the desert regions of America.

To taste one of these is indeed a rare experience that could only be reserved to a few cacti passionate particularly curious: some, although owning the plant, do not know that the fruit is eatable. Others even prefer to admire it for its aesthetic value rather than taste it!

But there is a more common fruit (cultivated especially in Southern Europe), one that in English is called “cactus fruit” or “prickly pear“, caracterized by an extraordinary sweetness.


The cactus fruit (or prickly pear)

The cactus fruit is indeed full of valuable substances for our body and exceptionally sweet and tasty. The plant that produces it, is a prolific one that produces many fruits from every single shovel: the Opuntia ficus-indica.

Despite its name, the Opuntia ficus-indica is not from India but from South America, like all other cacti, especially from central Mexico. It has spread very quickly, though, in Asia as well as in some areas of Africa and Europe (in Europe has been acclimatized particularly well in South Italy and the Canary Islands) and maybe his name is the sign of an intermediate step in its spread before coming to the old continent.

Unlike other cactus with edible fruits, it is a plant that is specifically grown for human consumption: thus, it is possible for everyone to enjoy its nutritional properties.


Nutritional properties

Calcium, phosphorus and vitamin C are the best reasons to introduce this amazing fruit in our diet. But also beta-carotene, lutein, and many minerals that are added, of course, to the sweet and slightly citrusy.

This is why the list of its properties is very long:

  • It is slimming thanks to the high fiber content. In France it has also been successfully tested slimming teas made from prickly pear.
  • It is refreshing and cleansing. It helps to eliminate excess fluid and helps in cases of kidney stones. It is a natural antioxidant that helps the liver to avoid toxins stored in his daily job of detoxification.
  • It helps in the prevention of osteoporosis due to its high mineral intake.
  • Lowers blood cholesterol.
  • If you have diabetes, it provides energy without giving, however, high blood sugar spikes.
  • It is good in case of gastritis, protecting the gastric mucosa.
  • The flavianoids that contains strengthen the memory and help prevent degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
  • The syrups made from prickly pear are effective in the treatment of cough: it is also possible to find homemade recipes to make a syrup made from prickly pear and sugar cane very tasty!
  • Finally, it is a light astringent.

It is however recommended to eat no more than 2-3 per day to avoid the risk of bowel obstruction, due to the numerous seeds mixed with the pulp of the fruit.
An alternative may be to resort to puree or jam and other preparations.


Besides the fruit: preparations

The cactus fruit or prickly pear is a versatile fruit that can be worked to attract new delights.

The simplest process is probably the puree, which is achieved by simply pressing the fresh fruit into a colander: so you will keep all the properties of the fruit, but avoid those pesky seeds. The puree remains quite dense to the high amount of fiber; you can eat it with a spoon or use it as an original and tasty decoration for cakes, ice cream, fruit salad, pancakes …

Similar uses can be made also of the syrup and of the jam, which instead require cooking and the addition of extra sugars.

Finally, we point out that in most growing areas are also produced liqueurs made from this versatile fruit of the cactus.


If you still do not have one in your garden, then, we think we have given you enough reason to buy an Opuntia immediately!


(The cover photo for this article is by Weryn Olkowicz Nauplio, and it is from Wikimedia Commons archive.)

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