, Volume 212, Issue 4, pp 396-407

Phytochemical and nutritional significance of cactus pear

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Abstract

 This review discusses cactus pear fruit with special emphasis on its functional components. Besides their nutritional importance, their significance in plant physiology is also described. Opuntia sp. is characterized by high levels of amino acids, especially proline and taurine. The latter was recently re-evaluated in nutritional science as a conditional amino acid and was hitherto virtually unknown in plant tissues. Free amino compounds also take part in osmoregulation and play an important role in betaxanthin biosynthesis. In contrast to red beets, cactus pears offer a great palette of colour hues and therefore may be used as a food colouring free from certification. The mucilages in Opuntia sp. tissue are responsible for water retention and can be used as dietary fibre or food thickening agents. Low in acids, the fruit is suitable for use in dairy products. With readily absorbable sugars, high vitamin C and mineral content, as well as containing polyphenols, amino acids and having a pleasant flavour, cactus pear is tailor-made for functional food preparations.

Received: 13 March 2000 / Revised version: 12 May 2000