What is the prickly pear?

The prickly pear is the fruit of plants of the Cactaceae family. The plants belonging to this genus prefer hot and dry climates. The fruits are covered with plugs or, alternatively, by bristles. Their color can vary both in the peel and in the flesh, that wraps seeds in a disc-shaped form, also of various colors.


What are the nutritional properties of the prickly pear?

92% of the energy contained in a prickly pear specifically 53 Calories per 100g comes in the form of carbohydrates. They make up about 50% of the pulp and 30% of the peel of the fruit. The remaining 6% corresponds to proteins and 2% to lipids.

100g of fruit correspond to:

  • 83.2g of water

  • 0.8g of protein

  • 0.1g of lipids

  • 13g of soluble sugars

  • 5g of fibers (of which 0.13g of soluble fiber and 4.87g of insoluble fiber)

In regards, however to micronutrients the prickly pear is rich in:

  • 18mg of vitamin C

  • 10 micrograms of vitamin A (retinol equivalent),

  • 0.4mg of vitamin B3 or PP (Niacin (vitamin B3)

  • 0.04mg of vitamin B2 (riboflavin)

  • 0.02mg of vitamin B1 (thiamine)

  • 190mg of potassium

  • 30mg of calcium

  • 25mg of phosphorus

  • 0.4mg of iron

There are also traces of vitamin C and 1mg of sodium per 100g of fruit.

The pulp color depends on the presence of betalain compounds; in particular betanin gives a red-purple hue. It contains taurine, flavonols, tocopherols and carotenoids. The peel contains calcium , iron , potassium , manganese, magnesium , sodium and selenium. While the seeds are rich in phosphorus and zinc. Oils obtained from the skin and seeds are a good source of polyunsaturated fatty acids.


When to avoid eating prickly pear?

Prickly pear may increase the hypoglycaemic effect exerted by drugs such as metformin, glyburide, rosiglitazone and the acarbose. Also it is believed that it could increase the diuresis in patients on diuretics such as furosemide and hydrochlorothiazide.


Possible benefits of the prickly pear

The stem has found use in medicinal purposes. Particularly for treating cholesterol, and in the control of blood pressure and against:

The blades have also been attributed anti-inflammatory properties useful in the case of edema, osteoarthritis, pertussis, and to prevent infection of wounds.


Possible contraindications of the prickly pear

Several commercially available products made from prickly pear including juices and the capsules may be contraindicated in some cases. The main advice is to avoid their intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as there are no clinical trials conducted to assess its safety. Generally it is worth remembering that the prickly pear can trigger hypersensitivity reactions, especially in the form of dermatitis. At least one case of keratoconjunctivitis and some of granuloma have also been reported; the latter were triggered by contact with the needles.


Seasonality of the prickly pear

The month of September is typically prickly pears season; they are collected at the end of August but the later species also come to mature in November.

They can be stored for a long time in the refrigerator, but the best choice is to consume them as soon as possible or after a maximum of two days in the cold.