Prickly pear cactus are found in all of the deserts of the American Southwest. The flavor of prickly pears has been compared to kiwifruit, but not as acidic.

Nutrition Nibbles

The pads of the prickly pear cactus are high in iron, beta carotene, vitamin C, and calcium. The method used to prepare the prickly pear cactus has a lot to do with the nutritional analysis on a prickly pear cactus. If the pads are heated to a high temperature as in frying, then many of the nutrients will be lost.

Prickly pear appears to accelerate the production of the body’s natural restorative compounds. Prickly pear has traditionally been used to promote healing — specifically, as a treatment for inflammatory skin diseases, eye inflammation, intestinal tract inflammation, urinary tract inflammation, burns and joint or muscle inflammation. Now, science has validated these uses.

Prickly pear is nontoxic and has no known safety problems, even when used in large quantities.

About the Prickly Pear

The prickly pear plant has two different edible sections: the pad of the cactus (nopal), which can be treated like a vegetable, and the pear (tuna), which can be treated like a fruit. The flesh of the prickly pear can be used to make jam, jelly, sorbet, wine, and ” cactus candy.” Some people eat the seeds in soup or dry them to be ground into flour.

Boiled nopales are drained, washed off with cold water and served as a salad with finely diced tomatoes, onion, cilantro and jalapenos and seasoned with vinegar, salt and lime juice. You can also grill the nopales; coat generously with pepper, salt, and season with other spices of choice. The nopales are ready when they’re tender and slightly browned.

Try stirring your cooked nopales into soup, mixing them in a salad or omelet, pickling them, or even eating them alone.

Tunas or prickly pear fruit should be picked using tong or a piece of heavy paper. To prepare tunas, rub with a heavy cloth or peel with a paring knife. To make juice, unpeeled whole fruit can be cooked with just enough water to cover in a sauce pan. Mash with potato masher and let cook 30 minutes. Strain through several layers of cheese cloth or cotton muslin dish towel.

In addition to aiding in weight loss, prickly pear may have other health benefits. Currently, prickly pear is under going studies for:

  • Some studies have shown that the pectin contained in the Prickly Pear pulp lowers levels of “bad” cholesterol while leaving “good” cholesterol levels unchanged.
  • Another study found that the fibrous pectin in the fruit may lowers diabetics’ need for insulin.
  • Both fruits and pads of the prickly pear cactus are rich in slowly absorbed soluble fibers that help keep blood sugar stable.

Locked inside the prickly pear cactus may be the best friend your workout ever had. A French research scientist has established that professional athletes can work out longer and harder while using prickly pear extract.

Prickly Pear Takes on Obesity

Prickly pear contains what is known as “fat binding properties”. These properties allow the body to expel around 30 percent more fat after eating a meal.

Translate: Your body absorbs nearly 1/3rd less fat from the food you’ve ingested.

The best way to reap the benefits of prickly pear is through your foods. Following are a few recipes for foods you can eat daily to incorporate prickly pear into your diet on a regular basis.

How about some prickly pear in your next healthy salad? Or a sweet tropical mousse? Prickly pear can also be used to make tea, jelly and even butter. Following are some recipes to get your started using prickly pear.

Southwest Cactus Salad

  • 2 cups Nopalitos, diced 1/2-inch pieces
  • 4 green onions
  • 1/2 pound tomatoes peeled
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons minced cilantro
  • Salt
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped

Combine nopalitos, onions, lime juice and cilantro. Mix and season with salt. Serve or cover and chill. Recipe makes 8 servings.

Prickly Pear Salad Dressing

  • 1/2 cup prickly pear puree
  • 1/3 cup salad oil (not olive oil)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons tarragon white wine vinegar

Shake all ingredients together in a covered jar. Makes about 1 cup. This pretty pink dressing is thin like an oil and vinegar dressing, but lower in calories. Good on fruit salads and tossed green salads.

Nutrition Nibble: Some studies show that the pectin in the prickly pear pulp can help lower levels of “bad” cholesterol. Both fruits and pads of the prickly pear are rich in slowly absorbed soluble fibers, which help stabilize blood sugar levels. Studies are on-going to learn more.

Tropical Prickly Pear Mousse

  • 1 envelope (1/4 ounce) non-flavored gelatin (1 tablespoon)
  • 3/4 cup canned pineapple juice or water
  • 4 prickly pears
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
  • Dash salt
  • 1 cup whipping cream, whipped

In medium saucepan, sprinkle gelatin over pineapple juice or water; let stand 5 minutes. To peel prickly pears, wear protective gloves. Using tongs to hold fruit, slice off both ends of fruit. Slit fruit lengthwise and lift out pulp. Chop pulp. In blender or food processor fitted with metal blade, process pulp until liquified. Strain out seeds. Stir liquid into gelatin mixture with sugar, almond extract and salt.

Cook and stir 5 minutes over medium heat to dissolve gelatin. Place in refrigerator; chill 1 hour until mixture mounds when dropped from spoon. With rubber spatula or whisk, fold in whipped cream until blended (do not stir). Spoon into four dessert dishes or long-stemmed goblets; chill several hours or until firm. Recipe makes four servings.

Prickly Pear Tea

  • Fill an 8 ounce glass or one cup with tea (hot or cold).
  • Add 1 teaspoon of prickly pear syrup and stir well.

Prickly Pear Jelly Recipe

  • 1 gallon prickly pear cactus fruit, very ripe (deep garnet color)
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 4 cups juice
  • 2 packages fruit pectin

Gather the fruit using a tong and a pair of gloves. Put the fruit in a sink with water. Using tongs, swish in water to remove stickers. Cut fruit in half. Place in large pan. Boil until fruit is shriveled. Mash with potato masher. Strain through jelly bag or cheese cloth. Bring juice and pectin to boil. Add sugar and boil to jelly stage. Pour into jelly glasses and seal.

Prickly Pear Butter

  • 1 pound unsalted butter
  • 2 each prickly pear cactus fruit or
  • 1/2 cup of another fruit or berry of your choice, strawberries, or raspberries, etc.
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • Salt, to taste

Let butter soften slightly in a mixing bowl or food processor. Peel and puree the cactus fruit; strain the juice through a fine strainer. Add: the juice, cilantro, honey and salt to the mixing bowl or food processor; blend until smooth and all is incorporated. Put into the refrigerator until it begins to stiffen. Lay out a small sheet of wax paper or plastic wrap and spread out some of the butter in a small strip. Roll up the paper or plastic like a cigar and twist the ends until it becomes a tight package. Freeze until hard and return to refrigerator to soften slightly for easy slicing.

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