Comes the summer and you start noticing ambulant merchants with spiny yellow and orange fruits on their charts… Prickly pears!
Also known as cactus fruits or “sobbeir” in Arabic, prickle pear trees were found along the Lebanese coast, especially in the northern and southern parts up to 900m of altitude; people grew them as fences for their gardens and orchards, but also benefited from the tasty fruits consumed fresh or used for Arak processing.
Cactus trees are very well adapted to arid and semi-arid climates, and have been cultivated for long time in Lebanon. Although the southern villages around the Hasbani River have produced more than ten thousand tons of fresh fruits during the past 5 years, this crop is still underutilized with absence of governmental support. A virus that infected the plantations in the south has caused a drastic decline in the production in 2015.
However, planting cactus – Opuntia ficus indica (L.) Mill – is not an expensive production and does not require a lot of maintenance and attention, hence it could be considered as a new source of income to small farmers and contribute to the biodiversity of the farms.
Prickly pear are delicious fruits with many health benefits: they are packed with a number of nutrients including calcium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus. They are also a very rich source of Vitamin C which makes this fruit a booster for the immune system.
A medium sized prickly pear fruit provides 1/3 of the entire daily need of vitamin C!
Cactus fruits also contain a significant amount of fibers that are very beneficial to the digestive system among other health benefits. These high-fiber fruits are also an excellent source of antioxidants and carotenoids having an important role in fighting diseases.
How to safely peel this delicious fruit??
Peeling the cactus fruit can be painful, because of thorns covering its skin. These small thorns called glochids are so thin that you don’t even feel them when they enter your skin.
Cactus fruits can be peeled using one of these methods:
- With a knife and wearing thick gloves: cut both ends of the prickly pear off, slice the body of the fruit vertically, peel the fleshy skin
- Using a brush: remove the thorns and then cut the fruit
- Soak the fruits in water for an hour and peel them under a running tap