1 Apr 2014

Tuna - Peru


Where ever you go in Cuzco these days you are likely to find a fruit called “tuna.”  Looking somewhat like a small grenade, it is the fruit of the prickly pear cactus and is delicious.  Though filled with small, edible seeds, if you try it, its sweetness will grab you and make you want more. This is the time of year when tuna comes on.  It is now at its peak. The beautiful, orchid-like cactus flowers of earlier have matured into fruit which are picked and sent to market in the city.  Most of the tuna in city of Cuzco comes from the areas of Limatambo and Accha (Paruro). 

The fruit arrives at the wholesale market of Huancaro where people who are called “vendedores ambulantes”  (walking vendors) come early in the morning to buy product to sell that day.  They dress in colored aprons, where they keep their money.  To transport their produce to the various street corners and neighborhoods where they sell they rely on wheelbarrows, push carts, or baskets.  They set the fruit up in them so that it will be visible to passersby and will tempt them to buy.  The fruit comes in different colors of flesh, white, red, and orange. Tuna is found on street corners or nearby throughout the city, given this informal but efficient system of distribution.   

The fruit is so good that it is hard to just pass by without buying one there and trying it, while picking up more to take home to the family. Unfortunately, tuna only comes to market during this time of the year (February and early March).  Their cost to the public is three tunas for one sol.  It is accepted with pleasure by Cuzco’s population because of its juicy, rich flavor and nutritional value. 
Thanks to Peru's three main climate zones, coast, highlands and jungle, a great variety of fruits can be found in the country. Some are native to Peru, exotic or rarely known abroad others can be seen in every (super) market around the world. While you can buy bananas, apples, pears, grapes, passion fruits, papayas and many more common fruits on the Peruvian markets as well, have a look for some special and unique fruits coming originally from Peru or being important ingredients in the local cuisine. The Tuna also known as cactus fruit or prickly pear is cultivated in Peru since ancient times. Images of the fruit can be found on textiles of cultures like the Wari, Chimu and Incas. 

The fruit is oval with a thick skin, green or orange to red in color. The bright red to purple inside contains many small seeds and tastes similar to a juicy, extra sweet watermelon, when processed to jams, jellies, juices or alcoholic beverages a little bit like strawberries and figs. The tuna is believed to lower the cholesterol and blood sugar level as well as having antioxidant properties.
It is considered an exceptional food because of its relatively high concentrations of  vitamins C and E, pigments, and polyphenols.   It is said to help people lose weight and help in treating diabetes.

Properties are claimed for it.
–It prevents and helps in the treatment of degenerative chronic disease such as diabetes, obesity, cancer, and arthritis, as well as diseases of the heart and conditions of the digestive system such as diarrheas (supported by many national and international studies)
–It reduces and regulates the levels of blood sugar
–It regulates the digestive process: aids the process of absorbtion of proteins.  Its seeds contributed to good digestion.  It has excellent properties which reduce stomach acidity, and its astringency prevents and helps control diarrheas.
–It strengthens the cardiovascular system, increases the strength and amplitude of heart contractions.
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