The fruit of the prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) is characterised by cylindrical shape. The outer rind of the fruit contains a few thorns, and the colour of the rind and pulp of the prickly pear is green at the beginning and as the fruits ripen, the colour of the pulp changes from the inside to yellow and red hues. The prickly pear tastes like a mixture of watermelon and raspberry fruit, while its aroma is close to cucumber.
The prickly pear shrub is between 1.5 and 3 metres tall, its branches contain very thick, flat, paddle-like leaves of green colour, and the colour of its fruits varies between yellow, red and purple, and contains small seeds.
This fruit, which grows in sandy and muddy soils, is classified as a "summer fruit" as it has the ability to withstand drought and does not require large amounts of water. To remove this fruit one needs to wear gloves due to the thorns spread on the peel of the fruit.
According to medical references, one of the most important benefits of this fruit is it contributes in reducing blood sugar levels at rates ranging between 17-48 per cent. It also helps to improve the health of the digestive system because it contains a high amount of dietary fibre and various antioxidants, and these fruits also help clean the colon, preventing constipation, regulating digestion processes and improving the health of the heart and arteries.
One of its most important features is the strengthening of bones and teeth, because the prickly pear contains a high amount of calcium.
The original home of this plant goes back to Mexico, and today it is spread in many countries such as South America, the Mediterranean countries, and the Arabian Peninsula. It can survive with less than 50 millimetres of rain a year.
The prickly pear fruit is spread in most semi-arid regions, and many countries celebrate the harvest of this fruit. The Egyptians call this fruit (the fruit of happiness) for its role in improving the mood of those who eat it. In the State of Palestine, an annual festival is held in which farmers celebrate the harvest of the prickly pear fruit, after it is packed and used for various food, medical and cosmetic uses.
The prickly pear tree can be found in dry and semi-arid areas, and it can also be found on the banks of wadi streams in the various wilayats of Oman. Omanis benefit from this tree in the fields of food and traditional medicine. There are those who call for developing strategies for cultivating this tree, because its growth does not drain a lot of water, and it will also contribute to diversifying the sources of agricultural wealth in Oman.
TEXT & PHOTOS YAHYA ALSALMANI