Tuna can be found growing in different parts of Africa.
Depending on the location, prickly pears are either loved or despised. Widely known as tuna in the Hispanic community, these segmented orbs of desert cactus have been used as food, drink and medicine for centuries in Central and South America, particularly Mexico, but can be found transplanted in many other arid regions such as Mediterranean Europe. Prickly plants are protected in areas of the American Southwest but detested in places like Australia, where they are considered weeds and often dead on sight.
Some species of tuna – which provide the popular fresh and canned fish – can grow to over six feet in length and weigh hundreds of pounds.
Tuna belongs to the Opuntia genus of cacti, also known as the nopales cactus. These plants are found in large clusters of thorny, paddle-shaped segments, often blooming a vivid purple, gradually changing to a pale green hue. The plants are native to the driest regions of the Americas, but have spread to dry regions across the world.
In places like Greece, Italy and other arid regions of the Mediterranean, cacti were widely accepted. They can also be found clinging to life in cooler climates along the Great Lakes and in Canada. Tuna can also be found growing in North Africa and South Africa.
Tuna can be added to a salad.
In other locations, such as Australia and the island of Nevis in the West Indies, tuna cacti have been hunted for specific infestations of moth larvae. These efforts were aimed at destroying what authorities at these sites considered an invasive weed species. American states are now blaming the Caribbean eradication effort for more current moth infestations. This state of Western environmentalists is ironically threatening protected tuna populations in the American Southwest and Mexico.
For many in the western hemisphere where it originated, tuna is a valuable medicinal resource. The plant’s wealth of antioxidants and alkaloids is hailed for its nutritional benefits, and recent research is aimed at isolating certain strains of this cactus that may work as a treatment for diabetes. While the jury has yet to decide whether this cure will come, it has been used as a folk remedy for centuries by indigenous populations to soothe the intestines and heal damaged skin. Fermented prickly pear also forms the basis of a traditional Mexican alcohol called colonche, which combines hallucinatory and sedative effects.
Some may look at a tuna fruit and think it might be difficult to prepare or eat. Once the gloves are on, though, all worries can be over. To get to the edible parts inside, the top and bottom of the shovel are cut and then an edge-to-edge cut is made, which allows the shell to be removed. Inside is a fruit that can be sliced or diced and added to a salad – seeds and all – or mixed intensely into a juice. This juice can be drunk as is or added to other juices for a cocktail.