More Mexican than the nopal


When thinking of Mexico, either in its gastronomy or in its landscape, the nopal cannot go unnoticed. More Mexican than the nopal, they say, and it is an icon of our concept of identity, so much so that it is even stamped on the national shield of Mexico.

The nopales are species of the Opuntia genus of the botanical family Cactaceae, native to Mexico, it has spread to other parts of the world from the 16th century, in other places known as chumbera, fig tree. There are various genera of nopal throughout the Americas, but the largest number of genera and species are found in Mexico.

About the nopal plant

They are fleshy, arboreal plants from one to five meters high, with stems or oblong branches (stalks) of a flattened and green color that have thorns. They are found from sea level to about 3,000 meters above sea level and can be wild or cultivated.

In the upper part of the leaves, red, purple, yellow flowers are formed, etc. They also have their fruits (tunas) which are fleshy ovoid berries, yellow, red, orange or purple and with numerous seeds. These plants are perennials and bloom mainly from December to June.

Origin and history

The knowledge and use of nopales was started by the first settlers, more than 25 thousand years ago in their movement from north to south through Aridoamérica. They must have been their first resources for subsistence and settlement.

The various historical references to the nopal go back to the early years of New Spain. In his General History of the Things of New Spain, Fray Bernardino de Sahagún describes the legendary and "monstrous" nopal, as he calls it (since the natives called it nopalli). Fray Joseph de Acosta cites it as a famous tree in New Spain, "if a tree should be called a pile of leaves or stalks one on top of the other."

The nopal was prepared by the ancient Mexicans in very different ways and with varied ingredients: vegetables, with avocado, zucchini, chayotes, quelites, tomatoes, chilies, with meats of animals that inhabited these lands.

The nopal has a parasitic insect, called cochineal grana, which feeds by transforming the juices into carminic acid, which is chemically derived from anthraquinone and has a red color; It was used to dye textiles, in its mural paintings and codices, in the decoration of temples and palaces, even the cochineal was a tributary product.

There is also a lot of information that the natives used this plant as a medicinal. It was used for example, for the cure of burns of the body, for broken bones, for infertility, tonsillitis and as a poultice in bruises and swellings.

Nopal uses

The impressive variety of uses of the cactus, its content of moisture, proteins, vitamins, sugars, minerals, alkaloids and fiber makes its structure truly magical, without a doubt it can be included among the miracles of nature.

Currently in Mexico, the nopal continues to be used for the most varied uses. In addition to human and livestock food, it is used to make nopal paper, cosmetic products such as soaps, hair dyes, they are also used medicinally for diabetes, weight loss and an endless list of uses in today's industry.

A Paraguayan resident in Mexico, Gabriela considers that cooking is art and that art is within everyone's reach: a precious philosophy for someone who teaches us traditional recipes from the countries in which she has lived on her blog, as well as the fusion (the art) that he introduces into his kitchen thanks precisely to his experience as a globetrotter (he also lived for a few years in Brazil).

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Tags:  Recipes Selection Desserts 

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