Phytochemical Content, Nutraceutical Potential and Biotechnological Applications of an Ancient Mexican Plant: Nopal (Opuntia ficus-indica)
Nopal is by far the most important cactus worldwide. Since its pre-Hispanic use for food and cochineal dye
production, domestication of this plant was one of the most important inheritances left by ancient Mexicans. Nowadays,
nopal research is increasing mainly due to the many nutraceutical properties that have been attributed to this plant. Its potential
use against type 2 diabetes is gaining importance which has been related to its high antioxidant and dietary fiber
contents. Even more, the consumption of nopal cladodes and fruits has been associated with anticancer properties or cancer
chemoprevention issues. Other nutraceutical properties also elucidated include antiulcer activity, antiallergenic potential
and helping long-term memory. Moreover, new biotechnological tools are now been applied in nopal such as in vitro
tissue culture techniques and genetic plant transformation. Important industrial enzymes have been isolated, purified and
characterized from nopal. Finally, food industry applications for nopal are increasing because of its nutraceutical properties
and its potential use as a functional ingredient in the production of bakery products, bars and tortillas, among other interesting
new technological uses. Therefore, the aim of the present review is to summarize the information generated in
the last years around this important plant.
Keywords: Opuntia health benefits, biotechnology, cacti.
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