The Peruvian apple cactus fruit bears very similar properties to another superfood – its relative, the dragon fruit. They are both known by the names pitaya and moonflower though the Peruvian apple is also called Olala in Peru. Have you ever had a dragon fruit? Good, isn’t it? … and that’s an understatement. It’s amazing! If you haven’t had one you are certainly missing out. If you have and are as in love with it as my family is, then you ought to meet the Peruvian apple.
WHAT IS A SUPERFOOD
Essentially, a superfood is one that’s extremely nutrient-rich; one that aids in the preservation of or restoration of good health when consumed. They’re basically nature’s medicine except they usually don’t carry an unpleasant taste which is unlike most of the medicines my mother (a nurse) introduced me to as a child. If a food that was entirely good to your body was appealing to the eyes, wonderfully fragrant and deliciously refreshing and satisfying all in one, wouldn’t you want to have it? Well, there are quite a few foods that carry these properties and the Peruvian apple is one of them.
What most of us may not be aware of is that most of the Peruvian apple is the fruit of a cacti known scientifically as cereus. Most ornamental cactus plants on which we heap praises and adoration for their uniquely alluring blooms and strong fragrance after a sprinkling of rain or dew, bear fruit that are both pleasing to the tongue and nourishing to your body. Olala is no exception.
Cereus cactus are some of the easiest plants to grow. It is a columnar cactus producing tall, four to eight-lobed columns that average nine inches at their widest point in a mature plant grown in the wild. Potted, household columns may average six inches across. They’re relatively easy to work with because they produce much fewer spines than most of their relatives like opuntia and trichocereus varieties. Additionally, the spines are gathered to joints along the columns that are usually between one and three inches apart, giving you plenty of opportunity to avoid contact with them. Nonetheless I try to always use my gloves when pruning, treating, or harvesting our fruit.
Now, understand that while it is a cactus and can survive long periods of extreme neglect and without water, it is not ideal to suffer your cereus plants to prolonged periods without some love. Mine are happiest in rich soil with proper drainage. Mix in some sand and sawdust for proper balance and breathability. You can water liberally but try to allow the soil to dry between watering. A little stress is good for your cactus. Before long, you’ll start to notice gorgeous, magnificent, white blooms of pearlesque petals dipped in gold, forming all over your cactus. If you’re excited about enjoying that bit, I’m sorry to say you may not unless you are a nocturnal creature. The cereus fruit is one of a group of fruiting cactus plants more commonly called moonflower. It carries that name for a reason – the blooms open up at dusk and stay open through the night. This poses a challenge for pollination as nocturnal winged creatures tend to gravitate toward light sources and we cannot have fruit without pollination so what do we do? I suggest moving your Peruvian apple pot under a lamp post or any bright source of light. You can also course some string lights around your plant to attract pollinators. Be sure to lay them carefully so as not to disturb your flowers and fruit. You can also pollinate them by hand.
Now I won’t give you an exact time within which to start looking for blooms because climatic conditions and treatment bear great influence on how soon your cereus begins to flower. I can personally attest to two-foot plants fruiting in six to eighteen months. As you may know, we were living in New York when Exotic Secrets was born. I’ve shared the story several times over but if you haven’t heard it yet and would like to, you can find it here. It was while living in New York that I grew our first Peruvian apple and they took about nine months to flower Some of our clients have sent photos and testimonials of flowers and fruit within two months of receipt though that tends to happen in more tropical regions.
Your flowers will be followed by green fruit that are spine-free and completely smooth. The skin will slowly change from green to pink, yellow, violet or red when ripening – depending on the variety as some ripe fruit can carry any of the colors listed above. Now comes the most rewarding part of the Peruvian apple experience – harvesttime!
The possessions on which we place the greatest value in this life usually come at greater cost or expense – that dream car, your perfect home, the job of a lifetime you climbed ladder after ladder to get to… I say all that to encourage you. Like I’d mentioned before, cactus plants have their own line of defense, especially some of our family’s favorites like opuntia and trichocereus. Their defense is wrought with spines and glochids that can prove painful and annoying to deal with if they get hooked into your skin but what they protect is worth the trouble and I believe they are treasures we should all the luxury of enjoying so come harvesttime, do not be daunted. I’m not saying you should be prepared for pain. I’m imploring you to be prepared so you won’t have to encounter pain because it is a very real risk. Ensure you have, thick, rubber gloves just for use with your cactus plants before tackling the establishment or maintenance of a cactus pot or garden. Do not use the gloves for any other activities. Always store them away from common areas, especially if you have children or pets that aren’t immersed in water.
Fortunately, the cereus only has a few spines along the edges of the columns of the plant. There are none on the fruit themselves so you can remove and store your gloves immediately after harvesting. Now comes the fun part! The fruit is crunchy but juicy like a freshly picked watermelon but with more density and a generous distribution of seeds reminiscent of the kiwi seeds’ faultless crunch! The easiest way to enjoy it is to cut your fruit into quarters vertically and peel back the skin. They separate from the fruit almost effortlessly. Sometimes, the ripe fruit might even split open on the plant, especially if they are well watered.
Don’t underestimate your Peruvian apple cactus fruit. Olala is very versatile so don’t be afraid to experiment with juices, punch, sherbet, sauces, pastries, salads teas, and so much more… AND you can do it with a clear conscience. Peruvian apple cactus fruit is entirely wholesome. It means your body no harm in any way. They are some of the richest sources of Vitamin C, that help to lower cholesterol, boost the immune system, prevent cancer and heart disease, aid in weight loss, improve digestion, boost energy, defend against bacteria and fungi, and help in the overall functioning of the body’s systems. They contain no cholesterol and almost no unhealthy, cholesterol-producing fats. They can reduce your chances of conditions like constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and diseases like colorectal cancer. Carotene is another component of olala fruits, and carotene has been linked to a number of anti-carcinogenic qualities, as well as reducing the size of tumors (OrganicFacts). They help maintain healthy teeth, hair, bones, skin and so much more and can also help you nullify stress. If you’re pregnant, worry not. My doctor allowed me to eat as much of the fruit as I liked (and Lord knows there wasn’t much I liked besides pitaya) while I was pregnant with my daughter. Studies have found no harmful substances in Peruvian apples, not even for women who are pregnant or nursing. There is no loss or trade. You don’t have to give up something to enjoy this moonflower fruit. It’s delicious and refreshing and perfectly low-calorie and the few calories it has are all good for you… so dive in and I hope you enjoy the journey to discovery as much as I have!