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Cactus Pear OrchardWe live in a world where physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food are met with tremendous challenges. In South Africa, these challenges are complicated by the increasing rate of malnutrition, the effects of climate change and the decline of crop yields. The necessity to find and develop more resilient, productive and sustainable agricultural practices are of the essence. A possible adaptation strategy is the inclusion of crops that are less influenced by climate change and better suited to hot/dry and arid/semi-arid regions. Good examples of these include the cactus pear (prickly pear) or wild indigenous edible plants.  

Cactus pears (Opuntia ficus-indica and O. robusta) (fruit) and nopalitos (vegetables from the young stems or “leaves”) have the potential to be used as human food sources in South Africa, since these plants survive and thrive in harsh and hot climatic environments, marginal soils and where the availability of water is limited. In South Africa, cactus pears are mainly grown for animal feed, and consumers may not be aware that all the different coloured cactus pear fruit, as well as the young stems (nopalitos) are not only edible, but also very tasty and could be effectively preserved or used fresh in recipes. 

Our research team focusesCactus pear to promote cactus pear plants as multi-functional crops, with applications not only in the animal and human food industry, but also as nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals and cosmeceuticals. Parts of this project include the analysis of the seed oil, which is currently one of the most expensive vegetable oils on the international market. This oil is characterized as being high in essential fatty acids and antioxidants (vitamin A).

Another focus area is the slimy mucilage hydrocolloid present in the cladodes (stems). All its functional properties and possible applications in food are being investigated by our research group. A third important focus area is the colourants present in the fruit – these are natural colourants and potent antioxidants. All of the above applications may present a rare opportunity for the commercial cultivation of cactus pears in the arid and semi-arid areas of the Free State and other parts of the country. 

Our research team also embarked on developing recipes for fresh and processed wild edible indigenous plants, recipes are available for your perusal, on the Cactus Pear Website

For more information regarding research on cactus pear and indigenous wild plants, you can contact Prof Maryna de Wit. Any enquires about the recipes on the Cactus Pear Website can be addressed to Dr Albie du Toit.


Cricket meal  Cricket flourIn recent years, many research initiatives were devoted to explore alternatives to meat consumption, as some consider the meat industry to potentially have a negative impact on the environment, but also to educate consumers about the alternatives for meat that do not exploit our natural resources. The focus of this research is on the use of edible insects (i.e. crickets, mealworms) as an alternative source of protein. 

Positive sensory experiences play an important role in the process of accepting elements as a possible food source, especially when unusual and culturally inappropriate foods are involved. Our research interprets and evaluates consumer expectations and acceptance regarding the introduction and consumption of edible insects. 

The aim of this research is to investigate acceptable sensory methods of introducing and consuming crickets and mealworms as protein alternatives and a source of sustainable protein. Research product development (of products containing insect protein) will assess the willingness of consumers to use insect protein and evaluate if taste is compromised in any way. Results will indicate if the use of insects as a healthy, sustainable and affordable protein source will be acceptable to consumers. 

For more information regarding the Edible Insect research, please contact Dr Ismari van der Merwe.


Although the knowledge of nutrition and health increased substantially during recent times, so did the simultaneous consumption of take-away, processed and convenience meals. These processed foods are calorie dense and high in fat, sugar and salt. The result is an increase of chronic non-communicable diet-related diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, cancer and heart diseases. 
Vegetable Chips
It is alarming to see that these diseases occur more often in children, as children prefer chips to vegetables. In this study vegetable based chips for children were developed. Vegetables were deconstructed and re-shaped as a chip, thereafter testing and analysing the different cooking methods (baking, deep frying and air frying), results supported air frying as the healthiest cooking method, containing far less oil than the other cooking methods. After conducting various sensory tests using a wide variety of vegetables like green beans, carrots, beetroot, sweet potato, butternut, cauliflower, cabbage and sweet corn chips, the feedback from the target test group (children) were very positive.

It is proven that a variety of vegetables compromise a balanced meal. Insufficient quantity and quality of food is the main reason for diet-related ill health. With a variety of different vegetable chips, it is easy and healthy to present an array of vegetables to children in a manner they are more likely to consume it.

For more information about the Veggie Chips, please contact Petro Swart.


Elfrieda van den Berg (Marketing Manager)
T: +27 51 401 2531


Dilahlwane Mohono (Faculty Officer)
T: +27 58 718 5284

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