One of Malta’s most loved fruits is in abundant supply there and yet severely underutilised: the prickly pear. Its paddle-like leaves are perhaps the most recognisable aspects of the Maltese countryside, but they are a resource that remains untapped commercially. This, while foreign entrepreneurs have already realised its potential.
Scientist Carmel Briffa and his apprentice, Ian Sammut, work at the National Agricultural Research and Development Centre at Ghammieri. Briffa is in charge of the fruit tree nurseries belonging to the government. Both share a love for the prickly pear.
But the two experts said that despite the prickly pear being one of the most common and resistant plants in the country, nobody emulates the foreign endeavours to capitalise on this ‘Maltese’ fruit.
Sammut: “For a long time there was a social stigma surrounding the prickly pear. It used to be considered a poor man’s food.” He explained how the fruit used to be employed as fodder to pigs and cattle so the animals would produce dung rich in nitrogen, a nutritious fertiliser.
And despite having a rich history, even the fresh summer batches of the fruit, available in most supermarkets, are not even Maltese, but imported. Entrepreneurs have not yet invested in the plant and do not yet know how to market the fruit, Briffa says. The Sicilians on the other hand, are using Malta’s very own prickly pear strains to make jams, syrups, drinks, even cosmetics, and they are making a great deal of money.