Why is Cactus Fruit Called Tuna? (Tunas in Spanish)

Why is Cactus Fruit Called Tuna?

Prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii. Cactaceae, Cactus family) has its name due to the numerous sharp spines that grow on the stems.  And the fruits that are seasonal, are referred to as tunas or pears. The sharp, long spines actually are modified leaves that become harder as they get older.

 In Spanish, cactus fruit is called tunas. The fruit grows on the rounded edges of cactus paddles and has a thick skin covered in small spines. The cactus fruits, called prickly pears, cactus pears, cactus fruit, figs, or tunas in Spanish, are oval-shaped berries with glochids covering a juicy pulp inside.

 Native to Mexico, the nopal cactus is sometimes called prickly pear cactus, but the plant’s Latin name is Opuntia.

NM STATE website stated that  Prehistoric native people in Mexico and Central America harvested wild prickly pear cactus pads (nopal in Spanish) and fruit (tuna in Spanish), and eventually developed horticultural practices to cultivate it as a food crop.

What Is Tuna Fruit?

The tuna fruit belongs to the cactus genus Opuntia, also known as nopales cacti. These plants are found in large clusters of spiny topped segments, often blooming deep purple, then gradually changing to a light green hue. The plant’s native habitat is the regions that are dry in the Americas.  However, they are now spreading to other dry areas all over the world.

The fruit is usually eaten with the skin removed, but without the skin after cooling in the fridge for a few hours. They have a taste similar to sweet watermelon. The bright purple or red or yellowish-white flesh is packed with small, hard seeds. They generally are swallowed. But, it is best not consumed by people who have difficulties getting the seed into their stomachs.

What Fruit Is Called Tuna in Spanish?

Prickly pear cactus is called tuna in Spanish. Native to Mexico, the nopal cactus is sometimes called prickly pear cactus, but the plant’s Latin name is Opuntia..

Feminine noun

tunaprickly pears 


Fruit of prickly pear ( Opuntia ficus-indica ). It is a berry with edible pulp, with green skin covered with thorns and many seeds.

From the Latin thunnus and this from the Greek θύννος, Latinized thýnnos , referring to the type of fish. It probably came into Panamanian Castilian from English tuna .

Why Are They Called Tonal Figure Pears?

The name “prickly pear” is also used for the fruits of this cactus and for Opuntia in general. According to Alexander von Humboldt, it was a Taíno word that was adopted into Spanish around 1500.

Origin of the Spanish Prickly Pear (Tuna)

  • This plant may have originated from Mexico. Because Opuntia species can easily crossbreed.  The origins of the Spanish Prickly Pear is most likely to be located in Mexico because of the fact that its closest genetic relatives are located throughout central Mexico.
  • The location of the prickly pears will determine whether Prickly pears are either popular or hated. Also known as tuna fruits in the Hispanic community,  the segmented desert cactus orbs  were used as drinks, food, and medicine for many centuries throughout Central as well as South America, particularly Mexico.
  • Opuntia indica ficus (Spanish Prickly Pear) is a polyploid autogamous and hermaphrodite species. Since Opuntia species thrive in semi-arid areas,  the most significant element in their habitat is water. They have developed a variety of adaptations to drought conditions,  including succulence.
  • The prickly plant is protected in parts of the southwest United States, but they are being disliked in Australia.  They are regarded as weeds and are usually destroyed at the sight.
  • In countries such as Greece, Italy, and other regions that are arid like the Mediterranean, Cacti have been well-known. They are also available in warmer climates around the Great Lakes and in Canada. Tuna fruits can also be discovered within North Africa and South Africa.

Medicine as Tuna

  • The plant’s wealth of antioxidants and alkaloids is hailed for their nutritional benefits.
  • The latest research is trying to identify specific varieties of this cactus species that might be used as a cure for diabetes.
  •  It has been utilized as a traditional remedy over the centuries by native communities to ease the digestive tract and repair damaged skin.
  • Fermented prickly pear is also the foundation of the traditional Mexican alcohol known as colonche, which has both hallucinatory and sedative effects.

Eating Cactus: Prickly Pear(Tuna) for Food

Prickly Pear (Opuntia) can be an extremely adaptable food source. Pads (nopales), as well as the fruit (tunas), have a great taste. However, care must be taken when preparing and harvesting.

The prickly pear has incredible nutritional content. They are among the richest in nutrients on the planet. Tuna has been given the label of being a “superfood.”

Fruit or tunas are:

  • High in vitamin C
  • High in calcium
  • High in antioxidants
  • A good source of dietary fiber
  • Low in calories
  • Free of saturated fats and cholesterol
  • Low in sodium
  • Good sources of carbohydrates
  • Good sources of potassium
  • Good sources of magnesium

Most prickly pear tunas and nopales can be eaten plain. 

Is Prickly Pear the Same as Tuna?

Prickly pears can also be referred to by the names tuna (fruit) also known as sabra, nopal (paddle, plural of nopales).  Nahuatl word nopalli, which means pads, is also known as nostle. Nahuatl word nochtli which means fruit, or the paddle cactus.

Is There a Fruit Called Tuna?

The tuna fruit has many other alias names such as Opuntia, prickly pear, nopal, Nostle and so on; however, its scientific name is Opuntia ficus-Indica. The fruit is indigenous across the Western Hemisphere, specifically in Latin America and the Caribbean. Its most widespread use is in Mexico

Where Does Tuna Fruit Come From?

The prickly pear has many other pseudonyms, such as: opuntia, fiber, nopal, nostle, etc. However, its scientific name is Opuntia ficus-Indica. The fruit comes from the western hemisphere, especially Latin America and the Caribbean, where its most popular use is in Mexico.

Are Tuna Fruits Good?

It is referred to as Opuntia, prickly pears as well as others, are renowned to combat high cholesterol, diabetes as well as obesity, and hangovers. It is also sought-after for its anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties.

How to Eat Tuna Cactus Fruit?

Prickly pear has been a part of food in the Mexican as well as Central American diet for thousands of years. In some parts of the United States, it has been gaining popularity as an exotic, delicious, and nutritious ingredient to one’s diet . The prickly pear plant is comprised of three distinct edible sections The cushion of the Cactus ( nopal ) that can be used as a vegetable,  as well as the petals of the flowers that can be added to salads,  as well as the pear ( tuna ) is treated as a fruit.

  • Nopales (prickly pear cushions)
  • Prickly pear (the fruit of the cactus)
  • Pepper, salt, other spices

Why Is Tuna So Tasty?

“Tuna” is a delicious and authentic meal that is versatile and ready to eat. It is  ideal for cooking recipes that taste as delicious as they are easy and easy to prepare”.

Reference:  Hope Wilson, Melissa Wyatt, Patricia Zilliox  stated at Prickly Pear Cactus: Food of the Desert 

Anwar Hossain

My name is Anwar Hossain. I am a cactus lover, researcher, and cactus blogger.

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