The prickly pear cactus is unique among other plants, and even among other cacti. Very few plants in the botanical kingdom are a vegetable, fruit and flower all in one. The driving force behind the prickly pear’s use and popularity is its abilty to function as both food and medicine.
A daily dose of 5 to 9 grams per day of prickly pear fruit pectin may be effective in the prevention or reversal of a hypocholesterolemic condition, though some studies showed that lower doses of 2.50 g of prickly pear pectin demonstrated effectiveness.
Bulk: The average-sized fruit contains approximately 3.60 g of dietary fiber. Eating 3 fruits per day would double the minimum treatment requirement. This dosage would then not only help to satisfy daily vitamin and mineral nutritional requirements, but would also serve up a healthy dose of flavonoids.
Syrups or nectars: Dosage will vary. While some companies might choose to utilize sugar in the formula, others might substitute sugar with other natural sweeteners.
Jellies, jams, marmalades, and candy: If you choose to get your pectin content from foods be sure to examine which particular species of opuntia has been used in the preparation of the product. Recognize that commercially prepared cactus foods are not a substitute for any traditional forms of medication or for specially prepared fruit nectars.
Juice: The juice tastes great, but will not supply you with pectin, the key ingredient responsible for the lowering of plasma cholesterol levels. You will, however, receive a nutritional shot of vitamins, minerals, and flavonoids.
Prickly Pear Sauce Recipe
Inspired by Rick Bayles Mexican Kitchen by Rick Bayles (Scribner, 1996)
This deep red, bright tasting sauce is so fresh and perky, it will liven up anything you put it on. Try it as a sweet accent to savory dishes, like spicy grilled chicken, top off a dessert of poached pears or ice cream with it, try it on waffles, or (yum) use it to cheer up a margarita!
2 1/2 pounds (about 16) fresh prickly pears
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon orange liqueur (optional)
1. Trim both ends of the prickly pears, then make a 1/2-inch deep cut down the side of each one. Be careful of prickers, and peel off the rind, starting from where you made the cut. If the fruit is ripe, the thick rind will easily peel away from the central core.
2. Coursely chop the peeled prickly pears, puree in a food processor or blender, then press through a fine strainer into a bowl. There should be about 3 cups.
3. In a medium-size saucepan, combine 2 cups of the puree with 1/3 cup honey, and simmer rapidly over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until reduced to 1 cup, then let cool.
4. In a small bowl, stir the uncooked puree with the cooked. Taste and season with lime juice, orange liqueur and additional honey if desired.
5. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze.
Adapted from Prickly Pear Cactus Medicine by Ran Knishinsky (Healing Arts Press, 2004).
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