For most people growing up in the 60s and 70s, their fruit intake was probably limited to a handful of different fruits--apples, bananas and oranges--and perhaps, grapes, peaches and plums, when they were in season. Today, people are fortunate to have an abundance of fruits in supermarkets, available every season and sourced from all over the world. In fact, the last five years alone have exposed Americans to a whole new category of unique and health-promoting fruits from afar, such as açai, mangosteen and goji berry. Foreign and exotic-sounding, they are now part of our fruit vernacular and belong to the new market category called Superfruits, which is predicted to surpass $10 billion by 2011.1 One new player in the Superfruit category is prickly pear cactus fruit. Although not foreign or exotic-sounding, it is definitely unique; more importantly, it has clinical studies reporting proven health benefits.

Opuntia ficus-indica is a species of prickly pear cactus with a long history of domestication in agricultural economies throughout arid and semi-arid parts of the world, such as Mexico, Sicily and the southwestern U.S. The indigenous people of these areas have traditionally used prickly pear cactus for both its culinary and medicinal applications. MB North America has recently introduced OpunDia™ Cactus Fruit Puree, a 100%, single-strength puree. Unlike many Superfruits, the cactus fruit puree is 100% cultivated, grown and processed (including in-house pasteurization) in the U.S. The puree can be used as a stand-alone juice or to fortify beverages, dairy products and frozen confections. 

Prickly pear cactus fruit is rich in vitamins, amino acids and phytochemicals, such as flavonoids and betalains. Betalains, like anthocyanins and carotenoids, are well-researched plant pigments with strong antioxidant activity. Betalains also impart the puree with a striking, bright pink color, similar to beetroot juice, the only other food source of betalains. Fortunately, the flavor of the cactus fruit lacks the harsh vegetal notes found in beetroot and is more similar in flavor to watermelon, with hints of fig. 

While many Superfruits purport numerous health benefits, Opuntia ficus-indica has actually been the subject of three human clinical studies. One study reported that healthy volunteers supplemented with cactus puree had low-density lipoprotein (LDL) that was more resistant to ex vivo-induced oxidation.2 Longer-term supplementation resulted in a significant reduction in overall oxidative stress, as measured by various oxidative stress indices (see chart), even better than vitamin C.3 In a third study, regular supplementation in both healthy subjects and patients with hypercholesterolemia resulted in a significant decrease in total and LDL cholesterol, as well as improved platelet function in both groups.4 The dosage of puree used in these studies is equivalent to 8-14oz of OpunDia™ Cactus Fruit Puree.

“Since the cactus is grown and processed in California by a well-established vegetable grower, we can guarantee 100% traceability,” explains Stefan Wypyszyk, vice president at MB North America. “This accessibility to the grower, coupled with strong clinical studies, creates an important distinction compared with other Superfruits.” NS
--Ginny Bank, Contributing Editor

For more information:
MB North America • Torrance, Calif.
310-534-7100 •

1 Natural Products Insider, Datamonitor. 11/2007.
2 Tesoriere, L, et al. Absorption, excretion, and distribution of dietary antioxidant betalains in LDLs: potential health effects of betalains in humans. Am J of Clin Nutrition. 2004. 80:941-5.
3 Tesoriere, L, et al. Supplementation with cactus pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) fruit decreases oxidative stress in healthy humans: a comparative study with vitamin C. Am J of Clin Nutrition. 2004. 80:391-5.
4 Wolframa, R, et al. Daily prickly pear consumption improves platelet function.  Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids. 2003. 69:61-66.