Prickly pear

Prickly pear

Synonyms:
Prickly pear, Indian Fig, Mission Cactus
Plural:
Prickly pears, Indian figs, Mission cacti
Family:
Cactaceae – Cactus family
Species:
Opuntia ficus-indica

Origin

Opuntias come from Mexico; varieties with few or no prickles were presumably even bred by the Aztecs. In 1769 Franciscan monks brought them to California. However, extremely spiny varieties had already been exported by Spanish sailors and are now a plague, particularly in South Africa, India and Australia.

Plant

As cacti, the 3 to 4 m high opuntias grow in arid environments and have been an important food source for man and beast for thousands of years. The plants run on 20 cm wide and up to 40 cm long limbs of stems out of the “ears”, at their peak perches the potato berry — about 100 to 200 per cactus.

Cultivation

Opuntias grow wildly and are cultured everywhere in the tropics and subtropics. The largest cultivation area is in Mexico with about 3 million metric tons grown per year.

Importations

From July to October they primarily come from Tunisia, from July to December from Italy and Turkey, in November and December from Spain, from November to April from Peru. Israel supplies the the market in August. Brazil and Colombia deliver all year round.

Fruit

Edible:
The flesh and seeds.
Inedible:
The skin.
Odour:
Neutral.
Flavour:
It tastes refreshing and finely sourish.
Size and shape:
They are oval and can grow 5 to 10 cm in length with a clearly shouldered peak.
Bowl:
The skin is not particuarly thick; depending on variety, the thickest is green, then reddish, salmon, yellow speckled.
Flesh:
It is coloured celadon, yellow, orange or red and is evenly interspersed with with little black seeds; the consistency is possibly similar to a mealy pear, but is nevertheless juicy.
Ripeness:
The skin becomes coloured — yellow with red spots.
Overripe fruits:
The skin turns brownish; they are unpleasantly soft and the pulp is glazed.
Unripe fruits:
The skin is green.

Usage

They may be eaten raw as well as used in sweet and hearty salads or boiled down.

Storage

Fully ripe fruits last for about 2 days at room temperature; post-maturation: likewise at room temperature.

Tip

Prickly pears have a laxative effect!