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Manzur-Valdespino, S.;  Arias-Rico, J.;  Ramírez-Moreno, E.;  Sánchez-Mata, M.D.C.;  Jaramillo-Morales, O.A.;  Angel-García, J.;  Zafra-Rojas, Q.Y.;  Barrera-Gálvez, R.;  Cruz-Cansino, N.D.S. Applications of Cactus Pear (Opuntia spp.) Peel. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 09 December 2023).
Manzur-Valdespino S,  Arias-Rico J,  Ramírez-Moreno E,  Sánchez-Mata MDC,  Jaramillo-Morales OA,  Angel-García J, et al. Applications of Cactus Pear (Opuntia spp.) Peel. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed December 09, 2023.
Manzur-Valdespino, Salvador, José Arias-Rico, Esther Ramírez-Moreno, María De Cortes Sánchez-Mata, Osmar Antonio Jaramillo-Morales, Julieta Angel-García, Quinatzin Yadira Zafra-Rojas, Rosario Barrera-Gálvez, Nelly Del Socorro Cruz-Cansino. "Applications of Cactus Pear (Opuntia spp.) Peel" Encyclopedia, (accessed December 09, 2023).
Manzur-Valdespino, S.,  Arias-Rico, J.,  Ramírez-Moreno, E.,  Sánchez-Mata, M.D.C.,  Jaramillo-Morales, O.A.,  Angel-García, J.,  Zafra-Rojas, Q.Y.,  Barrera-Gálvez, R., & Cruz-Cansino, N.D.S.(2022, November 24). Applications of Cactus Pear (Opuntia spp.) Peel. In Encyclopedia.
Manzur-Valdespino, Salvador, et al. "Applications of Cactus Pear (Opuntia spp.) Peel." Encyclopedia. Web. 24 November, 2022.
Applications of Cactus Pear (Opuntia spp.) Peel

Cactus pear is the fruit of the nopal cactus, is native to the arid and semi-arid regions of Mexico and Mesoamerica and has spread to many regions. This fruit is commonly known as cactus pera fruit, prickly pear, tuna (Mexico), higo (Colombia) higo chumbo (Spain), fico d’India, figue de barbarie (France), among others. Cactus pear by-products are rich in bioactive compounds such as phenolics, flavonoids, pigments, fibers, polysaccharides and fatty acids. They can provide many health benefits such as inhibition and protection against free radicals, cytotoxic activity against some cancer cell lines as well as the reduction of atherosclerosis and glycaemia. However, many studies have been performed by using the pear peel for multiple purposes such as for pigment extraction a preservative for margarine, as snacks, a dietary supplement with hypoglycemic properties and in wastewater treatment.

cactus pear (Opuntia spp.) by-product bioactive compounds

1. Introduction

Mexico is the main producer worldwide and cactus pear cultivation is considered highly profitable, because in optimal conditions, the production is 40 tons per hectare by year [1][2]. In Mexico, an area of 48,000 ha is dedicated to its cultivation, in which 352,000 tons by year are produced, through the participation of around 20,000 producers [1][3]. The main producing regions in Mexico are the southern region (Puebla and Oaxaca), the central region (Estado de Mexico and Hidalgo) and the north-central region (Guanajuato, Jalisco, Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosí and Zacatecas) [1][4].

It is estimated that the consumption per capita is only around 3.7 kg/year, since it is a seasonal fruit and is only available a few months per year [5]. The fruit is very popular, and it is mainly consumed fresh, although it is also processed in products manufactured on a small scale or in an artisanal way, and can be found in jams, yogurts, juices or candies [6]. Because of how it is consumed and processed, only the edible portion is used, generating a large amount of residue between peels and seeds. The non-edible portion known as the peel comprises two fractions, the mesocarp and the pericarp, and depending on the variety, it may represent between 33 to 55% of the total weight. It is usually discarded as by-product and may represent a problem due to waste management issues [7][8][9]; therefore, different alternatives have been sought for its use, revealing that is an inexpensive source of many nutrients, such as minerals [10], aminoacids [11], polyunsaturated fatty acids [12] and carbohydrates (which have been applied as a source of fiber, sweeteners and pectins for food applications) [13].

2. Applications of Cactus Pear (Opuntia spp.) Peel

2.1. Physical Chemical Characteristics and Nutrient Composition

The peel of the fruit shares some properties with the fruit; its physical characteristics give it very specific organoleptic properties, in addition to allowing for knowing the ripeness of the fruit. The acidity of cactus pear peel (CPP) is 0.02 to 0.12% of citric acid, which gives the characteristic flavor of the fruit and is related to the pH, which is an indicator of the maturity of the fruit. CPP can reach values of 4.5–5.9, and in this sense, it could be considered a low acid by-product (pH > 4.5) [10][14][15]. Soluble solids content (°Brix) is a parameter used for the screening of the evolution and ripening of the fruit, correlating with the content of sugars through the refraction properties of the total soluble solids [16]. The peel °Brix varies from 6.16 to 15.00 depending on the state of maturity of the fruit at harvest time [10][15].

Carbohydrates are the major component of CPP, which are rich in fibers and polysaccharides. It may change depending on the variety and color of the peel; for example, the peels of red cactus pear present high humidity and high soluble fiber content, whereas green fruit peels present a higher content of fat and insoluble fiber [9].
Since the demand for novel sources of quality protein have increased, the use of vegetables as an alternative source of protein has been proposed, especially those obtained from agro-industrial by-products. The use of cactus pear residue is available at low costs and can contribute to the generation of value-added protein, leading to environmental sustainability [17].
It is well known that the amino acids of CPP are linked to the betaxanthins, one of the main pigments of the cactus pear, which result from the conjugation of betalamic acid with protein or non-protein amino acids and biogenic amines. In CPP, sixteen betaxanthins have been identified, which include amino acids in their structure; they are arginine-betaxanthin, aspartic acid-betaxanthin, lysine-betaxanthin, proline-betaxanthin, serine-betaxanthin, tyramine-betaxanthin and threonine-betaxanthin [11].
Fruit peels could be considered as a promising source of essential fatty acids and fat-soluble antioxidants. According with Ramadan and Mörsel [12], around 36.8 g/kg (dry weight) of lipids have been found [12], and depending on the variety, the fatty acids that may be present in the peels are Lauric acid (C12:0), Myristic acid (C14:0),Palmitic acid (C16:0), Palmitoleic acid (C16:1), Stearic acid (C18:0), Oleic acid (C18:1), Linoleic acid (C18:2), Linolenic acid (C18:3) and Arachidonic acid (C20:0) [18]. From the recovered lipids, the unsaponifiable comprises 12.8% [12]. However, the amount of lipids is not only influenced by the color or variety, but is also affected by processing and storage conditions [10], since during the storage of oils and fats, lipid peroxidation takes place, affecting the nutritional and organoleptic properties, as the unsaturated nature of the fatty acids from cactus pears makes them highly susceptible to oxidation [7][9].
Mineral composition is highly influenced by the soil where the plant is grown and may vary from place to place, together with the variety of the fruit and the climate of that region. CPP is characterized by a high content of Mg and Ca [10]. In this sense, the consumption of only 20 g of peel would cover 90% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of magnesium and 20% of calcium for the general population [19]. Although, it is important to mention that calcium is not bio-accessible [8][9][20]
Ascorbic acid is one of the antioxidant agents found in abundance in the peels in comparison with the pulp [21], ranging from 46.40 to 86.28 mg AAE (Ascorbic Acid Equivalent)/100 g [22], and there are variations in the content depending on the color of the fruit; the highest content of ascorbic acid has been found in pink peels, followed by the orange ones and, lastly, the red varieties [22].

2.2. Bioactive Compounds

In some varieties of cactus pear fruit, the total phenolic content (TPC) as well as ascorbic acid is higher in the peel [23][24][25], mainly in red peel fruits [26], and a high amount is associated with the matrix of the dietary fiber [27]. Amounts up to 1534 mg GAE (Gallic Acid Equivalent)/100 g (fresh weight) can be found in the peels. The amount found depends on the cultivar, season and soil properties [21][25], fruit maturity and climate [25][28].

Purple peels have high concentrations of betalains, which are water-soluble, natural pigment derivatives, which yield a variety of colors, from red-violet (betacyanins) to yellow-orange (betaxanthins) [29][30], whereas green peel varieties have the lowest concentrations of these pigments.
The lipids from CPP present high levels of β-carotene [12]; the main carotenoids of the peel (representing about 80%) are lutein, β-carotene and violaxanthin [22]. In the different varieties of cactus pear (red, yellow, orange and green), the presence of carotenoids varies; however, the presence of norbixin, antheraxanthin, astaxanthin, canthaxanthin and ζ-carotene is consistent [31][32][33][34][35].
There is little research about the safety of oral ingestion of fruit peels, especially in the presence of pesticides, and there are minimal amounts of pesticides (such as malathion, chlorpyrifos, permethrin, diazinon, dimethoate, spinosad and abamectin) and heavy metals (copper, chromium, arsenic, cadmium, lead, and selenium). However, these are under the maximum limits of toxic residues established by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), so that phytotoxic elements do not trigger health risks [6][9].

2.3. Potential Uses, Applications and Health Benefits

Many scholars have focused their interest on this fruit, valuing it as a functional food because of its high fiber and secondary metabolites (polyphenols, betaxanthins, organic acids, among others) that confer properties such as having an anti-inflammatory effect, are lipid lowering, have a hypoglycemic effect, among others [36][37][38][39][40][41][42][43][44][45]. In these diseases, the chronic use of conventional anti-inflammatory drugs may lead to some adverse effects. For that reason, the anti-inflammatory activity of some natural compounds present in food products or herbal drugs may be valued as adjuvants to relieve the symptoms of these diseases [39].

Digestive System

In an animal model of colonic inflammation caused by irradiation, it was observed that by applying a pretreatment with Opuntia spp. peel extract in rats, a prophylactic effect against the damage is produced in the colonic tissue, decreasing inflammation markers, as well as increasing intrinsic anti-inflammatory agents [45] because of the high content of phenolic and flavonoids that are linked to the by-products of the cactus pear [9]. Therefore, Opuntia spp. fruit peel extract could have some potential to improve colonic inflammation processes [45].

Antimicrobial, Antifungal, Antiviral and Insecticidal Activities

Opuntia spp. peel extract is considered a promising source of new natural antibacterial agents against some microbes, and peel extracts have been proven to have significant antimicrobial activity, which can vary according to the type of extract. The ethanolic extract of the peel has high activity against some microbes, even higher than the activity presented by the pulp extracts, showing an increase in the inhibition zone against Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli. The peel extract also has antifungal activity against Candida albicans and has antibacterial activity against Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria because of the presence of several potent bioactive components such as sterols, tannins, alkaloids and other phenolic compounds [46].

Hypolipidemic Effect

Dyslipidemias are a group of asymptomatic diseases originating in abnormal concentrations of blood lipoproteins [47]. The hypolipidemic effect of the peel extract was demonstrated in a study with hamsters fed a diet containing CPP extract, and after five weeks, the plasmatic and hepatic cholesterol reduced at 35% in comparison to the control diet [48]. In a study using rats, LDL cholesterol decreased significantly through the treatment with CPP [10], owing to its high content of ascorbic acid, which protects the essential fatty acids (omega-3, omega-6, α-linolenic acid and linolenic acid) from oxidation [49][50]. Its high fiber content that helps to the lower cholesterol was also noted [9]. The CPP extract is rich in phytosterols such as lanosterol, campesteryl β-D-glucoside, stigmasteryl β-D-glucoside and sitosteryl β-D-glucoside [51], which have a hypocholesterolemic effect by a competitive mechanism with cholesterol absorption. This evidence suggests that this by-product has some potential to be employed as an ingredient or a supplement to low cholesterol and prevent cardiovascular diseases [48].

Cytotoxic and Anticancer Activity

CPP extracts possess cytotoxic activity in human liver cancer cell lines (Hep G2), colorectal adenocarcinoma (Caco-2) and breast cells (MCF-7), decreasing the viability of cancer cells, by increasing the concentrations of bioactive compounds of an ethanolic extract. The highest concentrations cause a reduction in the viability of cancer cells, especially in the human liver cancer cell line (Hep G2) [52][53][54]. The anticancer effect may be due to the presence of polyphenols that play an important role in antioxidant activity and show antiproliferative activity or cytotoxicity in human cancer cells [55].

Hypoglycemic Effect

Regarding the benefits in glucose levels, in a study with a group of rats fed with CPP flour, glycaemia was lower in comparison with a group fed with flour with apple residue, and the weight gain was lower compared to the control (inulin) [56] due to the low soluble sugars, the fructans content of fructans and high fiber content in the CPP [57].

2.4. Application of CPP in Industry

Food Industry

A high amount of peel waste is generated from fruit and vegetable-based industries and has led to an economical and nutritional losses. Processing of fruits and vegetables generates a significant amount of residue, among 25–30% of the total product, which have many bioactive compounds and have many applications in some industries such as food additives or ingredients, to develop films, for probiotics development, among others. The utilization of these low-cost horticultural wastes as a value-added product is a novel step for sustainable production [58], since the presence of complex polysaccharides composed of arabinose, galactose, rhamnose and galacturonic acid may influence the pleasant flavor. These characteristics make the CPP a suitable option as a sweetener in foods [10]. The great amount of carbohydrate polymers makes the peels a good source of fibers; therefore, their use is relevant to the food industry as a viscosity agent in food components [59].
The carbohydrates of CPP provide techno-functional properties such as water holding capacity (WHC) and lipid holding capacity (LHC), which range from 3.20 to 4.60 g/g, 1.73–1.90 g/g, respectively. Another technological property is the swelling capacity (SC), which varies from 9.82 to 12.33 mL/g. These functional properties are relevant because they may help to improve the sensory characteristics of some foods such as sausages or bakery products [51].
Several trials have included the CPP in different food products in order to obtain different sensorial attributes or improve nutritional value or presence of bioactive compounds.

Animal Fodder

CPP is commonly used as animal fodder due to their nutritional properties, such as the moderate content of sugars, starch, ether extract, crude protein, amino acids, fiber, and for providing a good amount of the animal requirements for vitamins and calcium, representing a better feed for ruminants than commercial feeds [60]. In rabbits fed with diets with 50% of CPP, giblets, liver and heart were heavier, and abdominal fat, triglycerides and LDL cholesterol were reduced, while the concentration of HDL cholesterol increased [61]. Adding a 15% of CPP to the traditional corn diets for commercial Cobb chicken, the weight gain improves in 5.78%, as well as the total protein and globulin in blood serum, resulting in superior nutritional status, greater daily weight gain, and better sensorial characteristics of the meat, including taste, color, odor, texture, and general acceptability [62].


Synthetic colorants have been used in different types of industries because they present good stability and are cheap. However, the trend for using natural colorants is increasing, and the market derived from natural sources such as fruits, vegetables, insects or minerals represents a promising industry [63]. The peels of the cactus pear, mainly the red ones, are an important source of betanins, one of the most valued red natural colorants [64]. These pigments are of great importance in the industry because of their ecological value and non-toxicity. Betalains from CPP are colorants with a potential to be applied in functional foods, not only for their action as colorants also for their as antioxidants, antimicrobial, anti-proliferative and hypolipidemic properties [33][51], and are considered a permitted colorant for foods (USDA) [32].

Other Applications

The aqueous extract and the powder of CPP have been added in biofilms to improve the physical and antioxidant characteristics of edible carboxymethylcellulose films, obtaining a formulation with a high content of betalains and phenolic compounds by adding 1.7% of peel powder and 3.3% of the aqueous extract [65]. In addition, the mucilage from CPP is extracted to create a biopolymer with good solubility in water, foam and emulsion capacity and with a thermal stability of up to 250 °C, which could see this biopolymer applied in biodegradable containers [66]. The raw CPP has been successfully used as an agent for the decontamination of wastewaters that contain dyes, pesticides, high levels of turbidity, chemical oxygen demand and heavy metal ions. By using only 0.5 g of CPP at a particle size of 10 mm, it has highly efficient decontamination power, produced by the high biosorption capacity of the CPP [67].


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