Prickly Pear: Nutrition Facts and Benefits

Prickly pear is a fruit native to South America. It has recently become popular in the U.S., often found canned on grocery store shelves, but it can be more easily harvested at home if you follow some tips for growing your prickly pear cactus.

If you’ve ever visited Mexico or the Southwest United States, you’ve probably seen prickly pear, a pink cactus fruit. It has a long history of usage in folkloric medicine. Historians claim that Native Americans depended on the fruit not just for sustenance but also as medicine, a source of water, and a building material.

Prickly pear is now used to manufacture juice, oil extract, vitamins, and cosmetic products, among other things.

Why are prickly pears beneficial to your health? According to several studies, this fruit contains immune-boosting properties, a high antioxidant content, and chemicals that help protect against diabetes, high cholesterol, and digestive disorders, including diarrhea and ulcers.

What Is A Prickly Pear?

The scientific name for prickly pear is Opuntia, and it belongs to the cactus (Cactaceae) family of plants. This cactus, endemic to the Western Hemisphere but now found all over the globe, may reach a height of 18 feet. Flowers are yellow, crimson, or purple, while the fruits are brilliant pink/red and spiky.

Tuna, sabra, nopal, and paddle cactus are some of the names given to this cactus. The prickly fruits are tuna and pears, while the cactus’ branches are pads or nopales. Succulents, or evergreen stems, are what the places are technical.

While there are at least a dozen opuntia species, the Indian fig (O. ficus-indica), regarded as “a vital food for many peoples in tropical and subtropical nations,” is the most extensively planted for culinary arts uses.

What is the flavor of a prickly pear? These little fruits are said to be very tasty. The fruit’s rich purple juice is very delectable, which is why it’s used in a range of drinks and cocktails in several nations.

Nutritional Information

The USDA estimates that 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of prickly pear cactus contains approximately:

  • Calories: 40
  • Carbs: 10 grams
  • Fiber: 3.5 grams
  • Fat: Less than 1 gram
  • Protein: Less than 1 gram
  • Magnesium: 85 milligrams (24 percent DV)
  • Vitamin C: 14 milligrams (17 percent DV)
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 0.1 milligrams (8 percent DV)
  • Vitamin B6: 0.1 milligrams (8 percent DV)
  • Calcium: 56 milligrams (6 percent DV)
  • Potassium: 220 milligrams (5 percent DV)

Benefits

1. Has anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties

Prickly pear fruit and pods are high in flavonoids, carotenoids, and polyphenol antioxidants, as well as vitamin C, according to research. In addition, Gallic acid, vanillic acid, catechins, betalain, betanin, and indicaxanthin have all been discovered in this plant in various investigations.

These phytochemicals have been shown to strengthen the immune system, maintain skin health, and prevent free radical damage and inflammation, all of which contribute to aging and illness. In addition, the prickly pear cactus may also have anti-clastogenic properties, which means it protects DNA from harm.

Furthermore, cactus juice, which is abundant in antioxidants, has been discovered to have the ability to trap free radicals and minimize oxidative stress associated with exercise.

2. Provides Fatty Acids and Essential Minerals

Prickly pear was likely the most significant food available in the area for many years during the “tuna harvest” in Latin America and the Southwest United States, according to records (along with pecans and buffalo).

This cactus’ pods and fruit contain vital minerals, including calcium, potassium, and magnesium. These minerals are electrolytes and are necessary for various processes, including bone, heart, neuron, and muscle health.

Prickly pear seed oil is also high in essential unsaturated fatty acids, such as linoleic acid (61.01 percent), oleic acid (25.52 percent), and palmitic acid (25.52 percent), according to studies (12.23 percent ). These offer several advantages, including heart protection and inflammation management.

3. Fiber-rich food that promotes metabolic health

The fruit of the cactus is high in carbohydrates and dietary fiber, especially soluble fiber. Therefore, it may help enhance gut health and alleviate digestive difficulties such as constipation and diarrhea if you eat it.

The immature pods, or nopalitos, have also been used to help manage or prevent type 2 diabetes since they are high in fiber (or pectin) and low in sugar. In addition, according to certain studies, the pads with soluble fibers and viscous mucilage may have natural hypoglycemic properties, which means they might help decrease blood sugar levels.

Reduced absorption of these chemicals in the stomach and intestine is how this plant might reduce blood sugar levels and high cholesterol. According to some research, adults with high cholesterol may lower total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels by eating a nutritious diet and taking prickly pear supplements.

Prickly pear pads are also rich in amylose, a starch that breaks down slowly into simple sugars, giving energy while preventing blood sugar spikes.

4. Antibacterial and antiviral properties are possible

According to folkloric medicine, what is the advantage of prickly pear for warding off viruses and diseases? While there aren’t many studies on the subject, this plant has long been used for its antiviral and antibacterial properties, including protection against urinary tract infections, skin infections, and even TB and hepatitis.

There’s some evidence that the mature pads’ mucilage may fight germs that cause illnesses. In addition, when pushed against the skin, adult pads have also been utilized as natural antiseptics for skin wounds.

5. Used to treat enlargement of the prostate

While further study is required, some studies have suggested that taking powdered prickly pear supplements may help with symptoms of an enlarged prostate, such as frequent urination even when the bladder is empty.

Uses

Prickly pear cactuses may be found in many warm climates, including the Southwest United States, Australia, southern Africa, Mexico and other Latin American nations, and the Mediterranean. While the edible fruit and paddles (or pads/nopales) are the most popular parts of this cactus, almost every aspect of the plant may be utilized in some fashion.

Prickly pear fruits, juices, teas, pads, and seeds have all been used in folklore and traditional medicine in the past. The following are some instances of how this plant has been used:

  • Virus and infection prevention
  • Aiding in the treatment of wounds and burns
  • Diarrhea treatment
  • Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, prostate disease, and other inflammatory disorders may all be prevented.
  • Getting rid of stomach ulcers
  • Getting rid of the pain
  • Putting an end to the bleeding

Prickly pear seed oil and extracts are available in addition to the fruit of this cactus. These are formed from the black, hard seeds of the cactus fruit and are used as supplements. About 50 seeds are found in each prickly pear fruit.

Because the oil contains moisturizing and anti-aging properties comparable to olive oil, prickly pear extract and oils are used in skincare and hair care — added to serums, shampoos, conditioners, and styling products — It may aid in the prevention of wrinkles and other symptoms of aging, the treatment of wounds and burns, the rejuvenation of dull skin, and the strengthening of hair and nails.

Prickly pear blossoms are also produced for aesthetic and decorative reasons in certain big species. The Engelmann prickly pear (O. engelmannii) and the beavertail cactus are two species (O. basilaris). These may be found throughout the southern United States, including Texas and Arizona.

With enough moisture, prickly pear plants grow swiftly and spread readily, sometimes to the point where they are called invasive.

How to Prepare Food

Prickly pear may be found at specialty shops, the foreign area of big supermarkets, and health food stores.

What are the signs that this cactus fruit is ripe and ready to eat? In the Western Hemisphere, ripe prickly pear fruit is most often seen in autumn and spring. However, because the fruit’s spikes may pierce the tongue and throat, it’s best to buy spineless, cultured kinds at the supermarket.

Fruits that are highly colored, smooth, firm, and the size of one or two golf balls should be avoided. Allow the fruit to mature at room temperature for one or two days if it seems too stiff to the touch. If you aren’t going to consume it straight away, keep it refrigerated for a few days.

Here’s how to prepare prickly pear to remove the skin and expose the fruit’s meat (the edible part):

  • First, remove all of the spikes of the fruit before eating it.
  • Next, scrub or flake the fruits with a brush or knife after rinsing them.
  • Remove the fruit’s ends, slice along the center and peel back the skin.
  • Remove the skin from the interior of the fruit. Remove the skin and throw it away.

The cactus’ nopales are also edible, but they should be cooked, baked, roasted, or grilled first to enhance their texture and flavor. The pads of prickly pear cactus resemble green fleshy stalks. The juvenile pads are called nopalitos at grocery shops and marketplaces, whereas the adult pads are called nopales.

Recipes

  • Try the fruits or pods in dishes like huevos with nopales (eggs with nopal) or tacos de nopales (nopal tacos).
  • Make fresh fruit or vegetable juices or smoothies with it. For example, prickly pear juice is sometimes known as “tuna juice.” You may drink it straight or mix it into drinks like margaritas. For instance, Jugo de tuna is made by blending the fruit of 5–6 prickly pears with 4 cups of cold water, 2 teaspoons of raw honey, and the juice of 2 limes.
  • In a fresh fruit salad, combine with other fruits.
  • Boil the fruit and use it in pastries, sweets, or ice cream to prepare a sweet syrup.
  • Make your prickly pear jelly or jam, possibly with chia seeds or berries.
  • Salads and stews may be made with cooked pads.
  • To create tea, steep the fruit in boiling water.

Side Effects and Risks

When eating prickly pear, be cautious since tiny spikes may linger on the fruits and pods, irritating the mouth’s interior.

Some individuals have complained of stomach pains after eating or drinking prickly pear fruit or juice. Nausea, diarrhea, stomach discomfort, bloating, and headaches are all possible adverse effects. If you have any of these symptoms after introducing prickly pear to your diet, stop eating it for a while and try it again a few weeks later.

This plant should be used with care by adults with diabetes since it tends to modify blood sugar levels. Insoluble calcium oxalate crystals may also be found in mature prickly pear pads. If you have a history of renal or health issues, they may aggravate your symptoms, so proceed with care.

Are the seeds of the prickly pear poisonous? No, although because of their hard shell, they are seldom eaten. Instead, they’re utilized to manufacture oil with a high concentration of beneficial fatty acids.

Last Thoughts

  • The scientific name for prickly pear is Opuntia, and it belongs to the cactus (Cactaceae) family of plants. It has yellow blooms and prickly, vivid pink/red fruits.
  • The purple liquid in the fruit, in particular, has a pleasant flavor. Cactus pads are also edible and provide a fantastic amount of soluble fiber. Extract, oil, and supplements may all be made from the seeds.
  • The benefits of prickly pear include: providing essential minerals, carotenoids, and antioxidants; fighting inflammation and free radical damage; treating skin burns and wounds; soothing the digestive system; reducing diabetes and cardiovascular disease risk factors; and providing antibacterial and antiviral effects.
  • To consume a prickly pear, follow these steps: Remove the fruit’s spikes, cut the ends off, and slice along the center before peeling back the skin. The fruit may be eaten fresh, but the pads must first be cooked (baked, boiled, grilled, or roasted).

Frequently Asked Question

What are the benefits of eating prickly pears?

A: There are many benefits of eating prickly pears. Some people eat them because they taste good, while others find the texture and crunch appealing. They may also be used as a medicine for certain types of cancer due to the anti-inflammatory properties it contains.

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The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.

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