A Prickly Pear-Main

Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Winter/Spring 2007 issue.

Both a fruit and a vegetable, the indigenous prickly pear cactus has been a diet staple and the source of legends, magic and healing in this part of the world since Aztec times.

Named for the shape of its fruit and the barbs in its leathery skin, the yellow, pink, red and purple blossoms growing from the tip of this succulent's paddles — themselves a hallmark ingredient in Mexican cuisine called "nopales" — ripen into the prickly pear known locally as "tuna."

Prized for its many uses — food, libations, cosmetics, creams, medicines and even a paint and dye — this member of the Opuntia genus is said to regulate blood sugar, cure acne and alleviate arthritis symptoms.

Resembling a pomegranate, in that its sweet, juicy, high-fiber pulp is full of edible seeds, prickly pear smells much like a melon and tastes a little like kiwi fruit, only sweeter. It is often served chilled and peeled.