Commentary, Cuzco Neighborhoods, Food Culture, Ingredients

Tuna Fruit, The Seasonal Offering of Cactus

Tuna Fruit

Where ever you go in Cuzco these days you are likely to find a fruit called “tuna.”  Looking somewhat like a small grenade, it is the fruit of the prickly pear cactus and is delicious.  Though filled with small, edible seeds, if you try it, its sweetness will grab you and make you want more.

This is the time of year when tuna comes on.  It is now at its peak.

The beautiful, orchid-like cactus flowers of earlier have matured into fruit which are picked and sent to market in the city.  Most of the tuna in city of Cuzco comes from the areas of Limatambo and Accha (Paruro).

A Delicious Tuna Fruit
A Delicious Tuna Fruit

The fruit arrives at the wholesale market of Huancaro where people who are called “vendedores ambulantes”  (walking vendors) come early in the morning to buy product to sell that day.  They dress in colored aprons, where they keep their money.  To transport their produce to the various street corners and neighborhoods where they sell they rely on wheelbarrows, push carts, or baskets.  They set the fruit up in them so that it will be visible to passersby and will tempt them to buy.  The fruit comes in different colors of flesh, white, red, and orange.

Selling Tuna Fruit on the Street
Selling Tuna Fruit on the Street

Tuna is found on street corners or nearby throughout the city, given this informal but efficient system of distribution.   The fruit is so good that it is hard to just pass by without buying one there and trying it, while picking up more to take home to the family.

Unfortunately, tuna only comes to market during this time of the year (February and early March).  Their cost to the public is three tunas for one sol.  It is accepted with pleasure by Cuzco’s population because of its juicy, rich flavor and nutritional value.

Tuna for Sale
Tuna for Sale

It is considered an exceptional food because of its relatively high concentrations of  vitamins C and E, pigments, and polyphenols.   It is said to help people lose weight and help in treating diabetes.

The following properties are claimed for it.

–It prevents and helps in the treatment of degenerative chronic disease such as diabetes, obesity, cancer, and arthritis, as well as diseases of the heart and conditions of the digestive system such as diarrheas (supported by many national and international studies)

–It reduces and regulates the levels of blood sugar

–It regulates the digestive process: aids the process of absorbtion of proteins.  Its seeds contributed to good digestion.  It has excellent properties which reduce stomach acidity, and its astringency prevents and helps control diarrheas.

–It strengthens the cardiovascular system, increases the strength and amplitude of heart contractions.

Prickly Pear with Tuna Fruit
Prickly Pear with Tuna Fruit

For these and many other reasons you should include in your diet tuna fruit as a good option as much as you can.

In order to make juice from the tuna fruit, you should first cut off the ends and then pull back the peel until you see the inside which has a lots of edible seeds.  Once peeled you can place the fruit in a blender or food processor and pulse.  You can strain the juice and discard the seeds (although of course you can also eat them).  Four tunas give around 230 ml of juice which though sweet is low on the glycemic index.

Tuna Fruit Ready to Eat
Tuna Fruit Ready to Eat

Given its great flavor and high value, it is time to go out and enjoy this offering of the cactus.  Thanks to the Pachamama (the mother earth) you can find it on every street corner in out beautiful city and try it fresh.

Prickly Pear in the Garden
Prickly Pear in the Garden

 

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