Prickly pears are nothing if not intriguing. Whether you’re awed by their vibrant colors, weird shapes and sizes, or intriguing spiky outer skin, there’s something about them that’s almost magical. But underneath their impressively spiky exterior lies something even more interesting - their history, uses, and nutritional benefits. Prickly pears are a prime example of the sheer variety that can be found within the food world, adding both flavor and texture to dishes, as well as boosting nutrition.
What is a Prickly Pear?
The prickly pear is a large family of cacti, with over 200 varieties, native to South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Prickly pears are considered both a fruit and a vegetable, featuring different shapes and sizes as well as a wide range of colors. These cacti can bear small, round fruits in shades of yellow, green, red, orange or purple. The skin of the fruit is quite distinct, spiky and ridged, making it easy to spot in grocery stores and markets alike. The size of the fruits can vary, depending on the species of cacti, from being smaller than a golf ball to larger than a grapefruit.
Uses for Prickly Pears
The prickly pear, due to its high level of sweetness, is often used in both sweet and savory dishes because of its mild flavor. Fresh prickly pears are often used to sweeten drinks such as tea, smoothies or cocktails. Their flesh can be served raw or cooked, added to salads, cereal meals and meat dishes. The fruits can also be made into jam and jelly, or cooked into desserts and sauces. Finally, the juice of the fruit can be used to make syrups and popsicles, making for a delicious, cool treat on a hot summer day.
Nutritional Profile of Prickly Pears
Not only can prickly pears add flavor, texture and refreshing sweetness to dishes, but they are also a great source of nutrition. An average serving of prickly pears contains Vitamins A and C, as well as being a good source of dietary fiber. Prickly pears are also rich in minerals such as magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and calcium, making them an ideal snack for boosting energy levels.
Benefits of Eating Prickly Pears
The unique composition of prickly pears make them beneficial for general health and wellness. For instance, Vitamin C plays an important role in collagen production, the protein responsible for skin structure and elasticity, and in aiding the body’s absorption of iron, making prickly pears helpful for supporting strong bones and teeth as well as healthy skin. The dietary fiber found in prickly pears is also beneficial as it helps digestion by facilitating the passage of waste through the gut. This in turn can help reduce bloating, constipation and irregularity.
Prickly pears can be eaten fresh, but it’s important to be aware of the spikes that cover their skin. Before eating the fruits, it’s advised to carefully peel them using a sharp knife or scissors, avoiding contact with the spines, as these can be dangerous for your hands and mouth. Additionally, when cooking with prickly pears it’s essential to ensure that their flesh is fully cooked before consumption as uncooked prickly pears can lead to stomach upset.
Prickly pears are an interesting and fairly low calorie food, versatile enough to be enjoyed in a range of dishes and with multiple health benefits. Whether they are consumed fresh, canned, frozen, or cooked, prickly pears provide the perfect amount of sweet and texture, perfect for tempting both adults and kids alike. Indeed, their unique appearance and magical flavors make them an intriguing and delicious addition to any kitchen.