Xoconostle

The xoconostle (from Nahuatl xoconōchtli – ‘Xococ’ = ‘sour’ and ‘nochtli’ = tuna or prickly pear fruit) is native to central México and the arid semi-desert areas such as: Coahuila, Zacatecas, Jalisco, San Luis Potosi, Guanajuato, Queretaro, State of Mexico and Hidalgo. It is the fruit of a type of Opuntia cactus. There are more than 15 varieties of this fruit. Opuntia joconostle, O.chávena, O.lasiacantha Pfeiffer, O.matudae and O.delafuentiana are noted as varieties of this plant/fruit. Some of the wild varieties are locally known as Amarillo, rojo (o Colorado), verde, blanco, San Ángel, xocotuna, agrio, Castilla, Sangre de Toro, raicillo, Manzanilla, coyotillo, zarillo, arronero, peurquero and duraznillo. The commercially cultivated varieties are the Cuaresmeño, Castilla and the Sangre de Toro.

The seed cavity of the Xoconostle is centralized, whereas other prickly pear varieties have seeds embedded throughout the flesh. Its skin is soft and edible unlike the tuna. The xoconostle is characterized by its edible skin which may be around one centimetre thick (its seeds too are edible). Like its prickly pear cousin, it is covered in clusters of small spines that need to be removed before cooking with the fruit. The woman you see processing them in a Mexican mercado will be using her hands. DON’T BE FOOLED. Her hands are tougher than yours. You will probably need to use gloves. The flavour is described as complex with a sour tang and an acidic finish. In Nahuatl the prefixes “xoxo” or “xoco” denote sourness.

This fruit is another example of a pre-Columbian foodstuff whose memory is in danger of being lost, particularly in urban centres. The knowledge of growing, harvesting and processing this plant is being kept alive by indigenous communities.

Xoconostle fruit
Nopal fruit
(for comparison)
Deseeded xoconostle
Dried xoconostle

Xoconostle Salsa

(Victor Manuel Arellano of Tolotzin Restaurant in Chicago)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. tomate verde (green tomatillos)
  • 1/2 lb. chopped Tomatoes
  • 8 chiles de árbol
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 guajillo chiles
  • 1 shot of mezcal joven
  • 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • 6 xoconostles (cactus fruit)
  • Sea salt to taste

Method

  • Simmer the tomate verde, chiles de árbol, garlic and chiles guajillo in 1 litre water until soft.
  • Let cool. Roast the xoconostles and discard the seeds.
  • In a blender combine all the ingredients except the mezcal joven. 
  • Add salt to taste.
  • Add the mezcal.

Use with any meat or vegetables. This salsa is from the state of Guanajuato Otomi community.

Mermeleda de Xoconostle (Xoconostle Jam)

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg of xoconostles, only the pulp, without seeds and cut into cubes
  • 3 cups of sugar
  • 2 cups of water (500ml)

Method

  • Place the xoconostles with the sugar and water in a saucepan; simmer on low heat until it thickens and takes on the consistency of jam approximately 45 minutes.
  • Let cool and store in sterilised, airtight jars.
Xoconostle liqueur from Mexico City

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