Culture Vultures Are Coming For Nopales, Calling Them the ‘Hottest Food Trend of 2018’

Online the gringos call them cacti or prickly pear but most Mexicans know them as nopales

Photo: Unsplash/@diegonacho

Photo: Unsplash/@diegonacho

Online the gringos call them cacti or prickly pear but most Mexicans know them as nopales. It’s a traditional staple in our diets, it’s a symbol of Mexico, many of us have them on our foreheads, and it’s got a pretty tasty fruit. Believe it or not, after thousands of years in existence, and generations of people enjoying this plant, NowThis has declared “Cacti” as the hottest food trend of 2018. What the hell?

In the video they suggest, “You could soon be eating Cactus for dinner,” which caused many people to look around like, “what do you mean ‘could?’ I already do!” But it’s not the first time non-nopaleros have tried to make the nopal “happen,” a quick search found that they tried to make it happen in 2017  – calling it “Green gold,” “Future plant,” and “World vegetable dromedary.” And in 2016 they tried to sell an 8 pound bag for $41 – quite unsuccessfully (thankfully). For the most part the gringos agree that we will all have to eat cactus in the future because of climate change, how scary! But for Mexicans that future is now, because we like that slimy lemony asparagus taste and because it’s a part of our identity.

With very little digging it’s easy to uncover that people in other countries also eat cactus, but the nopal specifically has existed in Mezoamerica (parts of Canada, the United States, Mexico and South America) for over 25,000 years. And according to some anthropologists they might be older than 50,000 years! The genus Opuntia is quite large, 300 different varieties of nopales have been found and at least 114 are actually native to Mexico. In Náhuatl, “Nochtli” or “nopalli” can be translated as “fruit of the earth” and legend has it that a nopal on which an eagle and a snake were engaged in mortal combat is where the sun god Huitzilopochtli told the Aztecs to build the great city of Tenochtitlan, which means “the place of the nopal leaves.” When the Spanish came and ruined everything in the 16th century, the nopal was taken (some would say “stolen”) to Portugal, Greece and Italy and then to Algiers, Morocco, Tunisia, and South Africa. Today the nopal is grown in eighteen of the Mexican states with 74% in the Distrito Federal, with an annual yield of 58,000 tons of both the tuna and the pads. Today it is also used as a cure for intestinal issues, ulcers, fevers, skin conditions, the list goes on and on – but we already knew that.

Oh yeah, and people online are not here for it:

So the next time someone wants to tell you that nopales are the hot new food trend for 2018, show them the receipts.  

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