The Canary Islands, a crossroads between Europe, America and Africa, were historically a crucial commercial stopover. One remarkable feature is the cultivation of cacti, brought from America in the 15th century, which adapted perfectly to the archipelago’s good climate. Two varieties can be found on the Islands. One of them, Dillen’s prickly pear, yields a fruit with numerous nutritional properties. This fruit is a low-calory superfood that can be eaten raw, boiled or even as a topping for select cheeses. It is also used in juices, jams and all kinds of recipes: a healthy, natural way of giving Canarian dishes a splash of colour.
In traditional medicine
Prickly pears have been used for medicinal purposes as they reduce blood glucose concentration and therefore moderate the absorption of sugars in the intestine. They are also effective against jaundice. In addition, the doctoral thesis of investigator Juan Francisco Loro Ferrer, published by the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, insists that there is evidence that prickly pears are useful as a treatment for gastrointestinal and hepatic pathologies, and they are used to treat coughs, bronchial problems and asthma.
Like the prickly pear, other local Canarian products also came to the Islands from the American continent, adapted to the dry areas of the archipelago and were traditionally used in folk medicine.
An ally for a healthy lifestyle
Obviously consuming prickly pears by themselves will not cure, prevent or reverse any disease. But coupled with healthy habits and combined with a balanced diet, they can offer our body great benefits.
In fact, prickly pears are considered a superfood because of the huge amount of dietary properties they have. They provide much more potassium, vitamin E, magnesium, calcium and vitamin K than bananas or dates. Prickly pears outstrip them in parameters for minerals and vitamins, other than vitamin C.
In the recipes of Canarian chefs
From being used in traditional medicine, prickly pears evolved to form part of recipes by cookery professionals of the Canarian archipelago. And so, prickly pears are now found on the menus of all kinds of restaurants, from the modest to more select ones, which boast a Michelin star. Whether in a simple juice or jam, in a creamy mousse or a refreshing, bittersweet gazpacho with figs and apple sorbet, this ingredient turns any dish into a Canarian delight.
Also present in cheeses and beer
Prickly pears are also used to make some of the most characteristic products of the Canary Islands. For example, to lend colour and a hint of flavour to the curds of some newly-created cheeses. And to cover the outside of the cheese, in the same way as gofio or oil are used on more traditional cheeses.
With regard to beverages, as well as in isolated instances – i.e. to replace tomato in the Bloody Mary concocted by chef Alexis Álvarez (a Michelin star holder) - we can find prickly pears in numerous forms that take advantage of their antioxidant, diuretic and digestive properties. For example, in liqueur form (for aperitifs, desserts or cocktails), in infusions and in craft beers made using fresh, locally-sourced fruit that varies depending on the season: mango, avocado, banana and naturally, our star fruit. There can be no doubt that prickly pears are a highly original way of lending colour and flavour to any recipe with a product that is healthy and 100% Canarian.