In the middle of “the great drought”, these North Americans believe they have discovered the superfood of the future: the prickly pear

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It’s funny, but if I think about it, there are many crops from America that were part of my childhood (chocolate, corn, potato, tomato…), but none of them have left such an indelible mark on my memories like the prickly pear. The streets of my childhood in the province of Granada they are full of huge cacti full of prickly pears and, if I have to be honest, I haven’t realized it until now.


A natural ally against drought

There is no doubt that it is something related to the local characteristics of the place where I grew up, but also to the little cultural interest that this crop has represented in Spain. Despite the fact that it was the Spaniards who introduced prickly pears to Europe and the rest of the “old world”, while our prickly pears barely survive almost like weeds (plagued by pests and left untended)in Sicily they have up to an exclusive “appellation of origin”. Not to mention Mexico, of course.

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Yes, throughout the world, nopales (because yes, nopales and prickly pears are the same) are used to make beauty products (soaps, shampoos and creams), food and drinks. In Mexico, where they were born, they are much more than just another vegetable: they are an institution. Not all countries put on their flag something that is part of “salads, sauces, sautéed with eggs or even alternative fries“. Therefore, I imagine that it was about time that Americans discovered the wheel.

In The Modern Farmer, have collected a number of entrepreneurs determined to build an American market for edible cacti. Something that simply does not exist (and, in fact, according to the report, many Mexicans miss). But Are we really facing a crop of the future?

The food of the future?

Malte Bremer K8obzyzckra Unsplash

For now, at the FAO (the United Nations agency against hunger) they are convinced of it. Before the pandemic, the south of Madagascar suffered a terrible sustained drought that resulted in a very strong famine. The introduction by prickly pear technicians proved to be a crucial supply of food, fodder and water for the local population and their animals.

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And it is that in the middle of the drought, cacti appear as a resistant alternative that improve the health of the soil and give two harvests a year. As well as being surprisingly “cold tolerant”, there are many uses beyond using its fruit for food, “the young stalks can be eaten for fresh vegetables” and, furthermore, “it can be used to feed animals and supplement up to 40 percent percent of the diet of cattle and 100 percent of sheep and goats,” explained professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Nevada Reno, John Cushman.

“Climate change and increasing drought risks are compelling reasons to elevate the humble cactus to essential crop status in many areas,” [defendía en 2017 Hans Dreyer]((https://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/1068756/icode/), director of the FAO Plant Protection and Production Division. And in recent years, the slow expansion of the prickly pear seems to be proving him right Many places need to increase their resilience to drought, degraded soils and higher temperatures: the natural terrain of the prickly pears.

Image | melyna valley

It’s funny, but if I think about it, there are many crops from America that were part of my childhood…

It’s funny, but if I think about it, there are many crops from America that were part of my childhood…

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