Cactus fruit or prickly pear belongs to the genus Opuntia. It is also known as Indian fig and cactus pear. The word “cactus” is derived from the Greek word kaktos which means a thorny plant. In Mexico and many countries of Latin America this is a staple fruit and so it is cultivated commercially. This is also called tuna and the branches and leaves of this plant are eaten as vegetables.
The Cactus pear fruit originated in the North, Central and South America and spread widely to the coastal belts, mountainous regions and tropical rainforest areas due to its adaptibility to various kinds of soil and climate. The modification of the stem, the absence of leaves and presence of thorns to restrict transpiration make these plants highly adaptable to any climate.
Places where the fruit blossoms
The fruits of cactus have varied names in different countries. In Mexico, south America and Guatemala the same cactus fruit is known as- pitaya, pitajaya, pitahaya, pitaya roja, pitahaya de Cardon. Usually this plant grows in the backyards in Mexico and countries of Latin America. But for export to markets of North America and Europe it is cultivated in orchards. The prickly pear is also found in the Sonoran and the Mojave deserts. The Engleman variety of prickly pear fruit is found in the desert of Texas and parts of California. Before the arrival of the Spanish, prickly pear was cultivated and eaten as a traditional vegetable in Central Mexico
A few facts about the Cactus Pear tree and its fruit
The plant is about 7 ft high and the thick succulent stems arise from the trunk. The yellow flowers are 3” -4” wide and are reddish at their centers. The fruits when ripe and fresh are purple in colour and turn grey when they grow old. The flowers start blossoming during May-June and the fruits start ripening during July. The fruit is grown as crops widely but in some places they just grow as wild bushes. There are fine hairs on the surface of the fruit called glochids. The prickly pear fruit is consumed by birds, mammals and insects.
Processing of cactus fruit
- The fruits should be washed thoroughly by placing them in a pool of cold water.
- Then put them in a blender and make a thick smoothie.
- Strain the pulp by passing it through a sieve.
- Let the sediments settle at the bottom of the container.
- Set it to freeze in the ice trays.
Uses of prickly fruit juice
- The plant of this fruit is widely used as hedges. It is also planted in deforested areas to control soil erosion.
- The sap from the pads is used as mosquito repellent in Central Africa. In Mexico, the sticky sap is boiled until it becomes concentrated and mixed with mortar to use in construction of buildings. The sap is also used for making chewing gums, candles and also for making stiffening agents for clothes.
- The flavor of prickly pear resembles strawberries, figs, water melons and bananas. They can be eaten raw or as a juice with a few drops of lemon. It is processed to make jelly and candy.
- The opuntia species has been used by human down the centuries. The prickly pear is processed to make medicines for curing and treating various ailments viz. gastritis, colitis, diabetes, facilitate childbirth, regulation of blood sugar and cholesterol, asthma, dysentery and many more. It has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties also.
- The pad is used for a number of culinary uses too- appetizers, soups, salads, vegetable dishes and desserts are made from it. It is also cooked with pork, chilies, eggs, shellfish, coriander, garlic and onions.