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UFS researchers discover the many uses of the cactus pear
2015-02-17

UFS researchers discover the many uses of the cactus pear

For many South Africans, the dry, arid areas in many parts of the country became synonymous with cactus pear growing at random in the natural veld. For some the fruit of a cactus pear, if chilled really well, is a delicious snack on a hot summer’s day. But few actually know that these cacti can be money growing wild in the veld.

For the past 15 years, scientists  at the University of the Free State (UFS) have been looking into the benefits and many uses of the cactus pear. This project  has grown steadily in vision and dimension, and today the UFS is recognised as a world-leading institution in the world conducting multi-disciplinary research on spineless cactus pear.

Dr Maryna de Wit, from the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology, together with Prof Wijnand Swart from the Department of Plant Sciences and Prof HO de Waal from the Department of Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Sciences, determined the nutritional and, more importantly, the commercial and viable uses of the cactus pear.

The aspect of human consumption is now giving the cactus pear the status of ‘superfood’.

Dr De Wit and her team have successfully made various products using either the cactus pear fruit, the cladode (also referred to as the leaf) and the mucilage (the sticky liquid  in the cladode).

Some of these products are:

  • flour for baking carrot cake, biscuits and health breads
  • jam, fruit juice and canned fruit
  • sweets – marshmallows and Turkish delight
  • stir-fry, salads and other cooked dishes.

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