Nopal Cactus, at times referred to in English as “Prickly Pear”, “Indian Fig” or "Barbary Fig" is scientifically categorized as Opuntia Spp, a generic name referring to over 200 species of the Opuntia cacti family. Here in this section we will attempt to distinguish between the different varieties of edible types of these Cacti and show what is actually considered to be the vegetable and fruit variety of Cacti, known popularly as the Nopal cactus.
Nopal cactus vegetable variety known in botany as Opuntia ficus indica or OFI, is the vegetable and fruit variety of the Opuntia Spp species with a 12,000 year historical record. Originating in the volcanic region of Mesoamerica now known as Mexico, Nopal OFI has been offering mankind this staple food and nutritional plant for thousands of years and therefore, many thousands of years before the Aztecs migrated to this Mesoamerican region.
Highly adaptable to a variety of climates, Nopal cactus cross-polinates and propagates easily. Nopal spread throughout the North and South American continents and Caribbean in the Pre-Colombian Period. Nopal was treasured by 15th century explorers and explorers and european travelers for its alleged natural ability to prevent scurvy and stave off hunger and therefore it was consequently introduced to Europe, Asia and Africa where it rapidly adapted to various environments and proliferated into the nearly 200 species that continue to be botanically defined.
There are two principal fresh food crops derived from the Nopal ‘Opuntia Ficus Indica’ Cactus. One is the "Nopalitos" that are the Nopal cactus pads or leaves and the other crop is the Nopal “Tuna” or the ‘prickly pear’ fruit of the Nopal Cactus. ‘Nopalitos’ the vegetable variety Nopal pads are native to the high altitude mountain volcanic rich soil of South Central Mexico. The ‘Tuna’ or ‘Prickly pear’ fruit Nopal cactus is also primarily grown within our region.