Exploiting Cactus pear for healthy food

Cactus pear or prickly pear, scientifically known as Opuntiaficus- indica,e,originated in Mexico and spread over arid and semi- arid tracts of several other parts of the world, such as Australia, Africa, USA and the Mediterranean basin and South East Asia.Cactus is cultivated for fruits, vegetable and fodder in Mexico, Italy, Chile, Israel, Tunisia, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina,and South Africa. The climate change and sustainable crop production, especially in arid,temperate and coastal ecosystem is a challenge. Frequent and prolonged droughts, thereby often crop failure are among the issues faced by Indian the rural poor and smallholders. If people are to survive in these ever harsher conditions, their crops need to withstand drought, high temperatures and poor soils. In India, cacti are largely grown as ornamental plants and find place either as component in rock garden or planted in pots in kitchen garden.

Sometimes, thorny cactus plants are also planted along the field boundaries as live fences. It can also be seen growing in wild form in forest and wastelands. However, cactus as edible plant (fruits/ leaf pads) was largely ignored till recently by the scientific community but with increasing awareness about diversified usages and health promoting benefits; some organizationshave started collection and evaluation of cactus pear in India. Moreover, it has not gained momentum due to its inherent constraints like; thorny nature, low fruit yield and poor shelf- life of fruits. The scientists of the Central Institute for Arid Horticulture, Bikaner, we have selected a cactus clone of nopales group having thorn less cladodes (leaf pads) at tender stage.It can be utilized for delicious culinary preparations like; vegetable, salad and pickles while fruits for preparation of attractive pink color syrup as well as extraction of natural colorant used in food and dairy industries.

This clone can be cultivated in tropical and semi-arid regions as rainfed and in hot arid region under limited irrigation with caution that it should be protected from animals and wild life as its cladodes are very tasty. The cactus pear fruit is an oval, elongated berry, with a thick pericarp and a juicy pulp and in general, many hard seeds generally known as ‘tuna’. The fruits are often red, purple, orange, yellow and green in colour.The diverse genotypes of Cactus pear have different coloured fruit that show the presence of different antioxidants profiles. The high sugar and low acid blend of the fruit makes it palatable and delicious. Studies on nutritional and bioactive profile of various chemical constituentsat high level further = added value to this crop. The pericarp of ripe fruits accounts for 33% to 55%, while the pulp is 45% to 67%, and seeds 2% to 10%.

The pulp is the edible part of the fruit and is composed of water (84% to 90%) and reducing sugars (10% to 15%). The pH value of fruit pulp ranges (5.3 to 7.1), very low acidity (0.05% to 0.18% as citric acid) and sugars ranges from 10°Brix to 17°Brix and are mainly of the reducing type.High levels of betalains, taurine, calcium, magnesium, and antioxidants are nutraceutically important while some of the constituents show promising in terms of health beneficial quality. Fruit are a good source of fibre, which helps to reduce blood sugar and plasma cholesterol levels. The value added products of cactus pear could also supplement to nutritional security and human health.

The succulent vegetative part of the cactus is known as ‘cladode, or ‘pad’ which are modified stem. Nopales are a group of cactus referred for its edible cladodes. The word Nopal is used either for vegetable type or for fodder type. In semiarid region of Brazil, it is used as fodder while in Israel its cladodes are consumed as vegetable and salad after removing glochids. Canned or pickled cladodes of nopales are popular in South-western United Staes and Texas.It is a creeping or upright shrub that can grow up to 2–5 m height; a dicotyledonous angiosperm belongs to family Cactaceae. Nopales are rich in pectin, mucilage, minerals, polyphenols, nicotiflorin, vitamins, polyunsaturated fatty acids (palmitic acid, oleic acid, linoleic acid, linolenic acid etc.) and amino acids (glutamine, leucine, lysine, valine, arginine, phenylalanine and isoleucine).

The nopal contains antioxidants and various flavonoids, particularly quercetin 3-methyl ether, a highly efficient radical scavenger. Nopales are characterized by high malic acid contents due to a CAM-based diurnal rhythm. Dehydrated nopales contain high levels of potassium content. Nopal pulp has numerous compounds (dietary fiber, vitamin C, phenolic compounds) with the potential to provide important benefits like intestinal, cardiovascular, hepatic health, antioxidant activity and cancer prevention. The fresh young cladodes are excellent source of proteins including essential amino acids especially proline, taurine and serine as well as vitamins.

The presence ofselenium in cladodes ofnopales, coupled minerals, total phenolics and antioxidant capacity suggested that Cactus pear can be useful as a nutraceutical food for improving human nutrition and health by developing immunity against ailments and diseases. Nopales showed protective effect in oxidative stress caused by various genotoxic agents such as mycotoxins, aflatoxins and cytotoxic drugs, such as cis-platinum. Nopales decrease the inflammatory response caused by different stimuli and showed positive effects on wound healing of the skin and the gastric mucosa. All of these effects are related to the antioxidant potential of nopales active principles like polyphenols and flavonoids, all substances with radical scavenger effect. Significant amount of ?, ? and gnopales noticed in cladode which could be a good source of tocopherols (vitamin E).

Cactus nopal mucilage is being used in foods, used as a fat replacer in food stuffs and also as a flavour binder. In general, nopal is a form of vegetable that is made from the underdeveloped and soft cladodes. Cactus nopales are an important part of the human diet and are also used as feed for livestock. Nopal contains a number of potentially active nutrients and their multifunctional properties which make it perfect candidates for the production of healthpromoting food and food supplements. In spite ofhigh pharmacological properties, cactus pear is hardly recognized because of insufficient scientific information but now it has been demonstrated that cactus nopales to be excellent candidates for the development of healthy food.

Nopal cladodes are somewhere similar as green beans and green peppers. Though,nopalesare suitable to use as fresh but it can be processed into several product forms which can satisfy the need for diversification.It is also known for the presence of betalain, a widely used natural colorant in the food industry. The health benefits that come from nopales are mainly attributable to its nutrition and vitamin content, which includes riboflavin, vitamin B6, copper, iron, fiber, vitamin- A, C, K, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and manganese. Hundred gram content of cactus nopal on Daily Value (DV) contains dietary fiber (14% DV), vitamin C (23% DV) and the dietary mineral, magnesium (21% DV). In Mexico, prickly pears are often used to make appetizers, soups, and salads, vegetable dishes, beverages, candy, jelly and drinks.

Nopales are commonly used in Mexican cuisine i.e. eggs with nopal. It is also an important source of certain organic compounds like phytochemicals and certain polysaccharides that also contribute to the health boosting power of nopales. Among the 26 compounds identified (representing 95.6% of the total extract), phytosterol (36.03%) was the highest component, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (18.57%) represented the second largest group, followed by palmitic acid (13.54%) and phytol (12.11%). In nopal sugars,glucose and galacturonic acid are the main constituents while arabinose, galactose, mannose, xylose and rhamnose are present in lower levels. The powder of oldernopalescan be a good source of calcium and good forthe people with difficulties in digesting dairy products. Nopales contain dietary fiber which is essential in the digestive process, because it adds bulk to bowel movements that make them easier to pass through the smooth muscles of the digestive tract. It also stimulates peristaltic motion to move the bowels along the tract, and reduces symptoms of both diarrhea and constipation. Furthermore, excess fiber in the body can actively reduce the amount of cholesterol, thereby protecting your heart health as well.

There are a number of components within nopales which can aid in weight loss. First, fiber can make the body feel full and inhibit the release of ghrelin, which is the hunger hormone, so overeating is reduced. Secondly, this plant is very low in saturated fat and cholesterol, but it is packed with metabolic potential, so the body works at a higher level without gaining weight. The presence of vitamins B6, thiamin, and riboflavin also makes metabolic function work quickly and they maximize fat burning and the transformation of food to usable energy.

Cactus juice extracted from nopals is one of the most commonly used additives in earthen plaster or improving house paint. The mucilage of the cactus has been found to purify water. A project at the University of South Florida is investigating its potential for low cost, large scale water purification. Recently, a cactus nopal extract was tested to improve water infiltration in soils. Cactus nopal can be used in rearing of Cochineal insect for dye production. Current health concerns over artificial food additives have renewed the popularity of cochineal dyes and the increased demand is making cultivation of the insect an attractive opportunity. Apart from cochineal, the red dye betanin can be extracted from some Opuntia. The people from some countries of North Africa call cactus pear “the bridge of life”, because it is the only feeding and watering resource for animals during drought seasons.

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