Looking At One Of Malta's Traditional Gems: Prickly Pears
The Prickly Pear is just one food item that continues to make Malta, Malta. It is enjoyed across the island by locals and is typically picked in the months of August and September.
The prickly pear is most certainly characterised by its appearance. As the name would suggest, the pear itself has a prickly skin. The fruit grows on a cacti-looking plant and can often be seen around both Malta and Gozo – especially when driving through the more deserted farming areas. Once the skin of the pear is peeled, a soft flesh is exposed. The skin of the pear ranges from a selection of different colours, with them being red, yellow, purple and green. The flesh itself is typically found to be vibrant red with hints of dark pink, golden or yellow.
Malta makes for the perfect country and climate to grow this fruit as the prickly pear (like all cacti), requires lots of sunlight and dry conditions in order to fully thrive. Thanks to Malta’s extremely generous number of 3000 hours of sunshine every year, it comes as no surprise that there are plenty of prickly pear plants scattered around the islands. It is crucial that if they are planted, the plant is given priority in taking the most dry and hottest spot in the garden/land.
Prickly pears are also widely enjoyed in southern Africa and both central and south America (as those areas too come equipped with a warm climate).
The prickly pear is also highly versatile as it is now produced into many delicacies and food items. In Malta, prickly pears can be used for jams, liqueur, freshly squeezed juice, nougat and chocolate. These food delicacies can be found at Maltese and Gozitan fresh food markets or in traditional Maltese and Gozitan speciality food shops.
Originally, prickly pears weren’t used in the way you think they were – instead, they were used for their high level of moisturising properties and were first used by the Knights of St John. The prickly pear is more than just a delicious fruit as they are also thought to be beneficial for certain health concerns. They are believed to contain a number of medicinal properties and can be used in the aiding of certain bites from insects, inflammation and upset stomachs. Additionally, the oil and juice from the pears have also been incorporated into a variety of moisturises and skin-care products.
The prickly pear was introduced to Malta sometime around the beginning of the 16th century. The popularity of the prickly pear grew so much, that it was even featured on the 1975-1988 version of the Maltese Coat of Arms. If that wasn’t Maltese enough, the sun, the traditional Maltese boat known as the ‘Luzzu’ and blue ocean waters also made an appearance on the same Coat of Arms.
As mentioned, prickly pears are usually picked between August and September which means that from now until December, the prickly pears are in perfect season to enjoy! They are found in supermarkets, local markets and speciality food shops. They are also located at the Malta International Airport so passengers arriving can get a glimpse and taste of Maltese tradition whilst those leaving, get the chance to share a bit of Malta with those outside of the country.