Can be found in desert regions of America, the Prickly Pear Cactus is known for being the “Food of the Desert”. Having four different species found in Arizona, this cactus plant grows moderately under full/reflected sunlight and can grow up to 1 feet and as wide as 3 feet. Hardiness level at 10 degrees fahrenheit and being watered every so often, this cactus has a low spreading with evergreen leaves, they grow flowers in spring with a beautiful color scheme from magenta to pink.
The Prickly Pear Cactus has two parts – the fruit (tunas) and pad (nopal). The cactus pads are segmented and grow on top of other pads. The pads themselves are actually a modified stem that is flat rather than round. Each cactus pad can produce several flowers that bloom in spring. Once the blooms of these colorful flowers fade, the fruits (tunas) emerge. These fruits are called with many names but they are commonly known as prickly pears. These are oval-shaped berries with glochids covering a juicy pulp inside.
The Prickly Pear Pads are commonly used for cooking. They can be found in markets and farmer’s markets.
These pads have a versatile flavor and texture and are often compared to asparagus, okra, or French beans.
They can be used in a variety of ways including: eating raw or sauteed or steamed and added to soups, stews, salad, and egg dishes.
Prickly Pear Pads are a good source of vitamin C, calcium, and magnesium. One cup of raw pads is 14 calories and contains 13% of recommended daily value of vitamin C, 13% of calcium, and 11% magnesium. They also contain very little saturated fat and cholesterol.
For the Prickly Pear Cactus’ fruits, they can be eaten as well. In fact, if you want the best quality and sweetness, you would need to harvest the fruit at the peak of its ripeness.
The raw fruit can have a range of flavors, depending on the variety. Some say that it may taste similar to watermelon, strawberries, figs, bananas, and so on.
The fruit can be eaten raw on its own; included as an ingredient in salads, fruit salsas, and desserts. The prickly pear fruit is an excellent source of dietary fiber and vitamin C. One cup of raw fruit is 61 calories and contains 5 grams of fiber and 35% of recommended daily value of vitamin C. They contain very little sodium and no saturated fat.
The Prickly Pear have four common species, the (1) Beavertail Prickly Pear (Opuntia basilaris), (2) Englemann Prickly Pear (Opuntia engelmannii), (3) Mojave Prickly Pear (Opuntia erinacea), and (4) Santa Rita Prickly Pear (Opuntia santa-rita). All these species can be eaten!
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