The What’s that fruit series (also known as: literally how the fuck do you eat that) is back, Mexican edition. First up? Tuna. This is where language gets a little crazy because tuna is Spanish is atún, but the Spanish word, tuna, when translated to English, is “prickly pear” and “pear” in Spanish is pera, which makes a little sense, but mostly now we’re all confused.
In Mexico, tuna is a cactus fruit that grows from the prickly pear cactus. It starts as a pink flower that blossoms in Spring– typically in late April or May– and produces fruit by June and July. The flower and fruit grow around the rim of the prickly pear cactus branches, and these are the same branches that are harvested for nopales. The colours and shapes of fruit vary. This one is pear-shaped and lime green in colour, whereas others are round and the size of golf balls, with a deep plum peel. Tuna is easy to buy in the markets when it’s in season. And the best part is that the vendors have already sliced off all the thorns. You can cut into them to the reach the fruit, or simply peel the outside off with your hands.
The inside is refreshing, light, and sweet. You could compare the taste to that of a regular pear: subtle, without a strong flavour. The seeds are tough, and you’re supposed to eat them. But tuna is pretty watery and tends to dissolve in your mouth, so you swallow the seeds whole.
Like pitaya, It’s actually pretty good for your digestion (and as a hangover cure). Here’s the nutritional breakdown for this specific type of tuna: Like most fruits, it’s packed with fibre. And tuna serves as a source of vitamin C and magnesium. And magnesium can help boost your energy levels so WAKE UP and eat some cactus things.
Central Mexico is definitely cactus territory. Nopales are a lunch time staple, and tuna is even used to make ice creams and sweet drinks. Last term, I visited the jardin botanico with other teachers. We toured this enormous national park that is covered in cacti. It feels like the Wizard of Oz if Dorothy had swapped her posy field for a desert.
Some of these cacti were dozens of years old. Because we went in March, many were “sleeping,” or temporarily dead, dormant for the winter. During this period, they weren’t producing fruit. But when you add them all up, it creates a pretty striking view.