Prickly pear, scientific name Opuntia ficus-indica, is a cactus native of Mexico – in fact, it is depicted on the national flag – that was imported to Europe by Spanish people We can find it in Italy in the warmer south regions. Its fruits are fleshy berries with coloured notes that go through thousand shades, from light green to amber, to magenta. They stand out against a dense sky, full of blue, that looks almost solid. Imperceptibly leaned, they stand straight on the leaves, intense green, challenging the gravity force in order to crown the blades that support them, like mothers desirous of boasting of their children, so beautiful to push themselves until the sky to paint a rainbow that tastes like summer, substantial life, fat of passion. Those who has never wandered around the market of Ballarò, in Palermo, sitting wherever it happens, on a step, to taste the juicy and sweet prickly pears, already peeled in the tray together with a little fork, a clear invitation to consume the rite in this way, in the street, steeped in the Sicilian tradition just like in a painting from centuries ago, should definitely put it among the list of experiences to live.

Prickly pears, not only are incredibly beautiful, but also significantly useful, especially in a context like ours, of climate and environmental upheavals. The FAO – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – elected it as “food of the future”, because thank’s to its peculiar properties, both nutritive and of adaptation, it will be able to provide livelihood for millions of people in the driest areas of the plant, as well as to the cattle. The prickly pear resists drought because it is able to incorporate great quantities of water and require very little of it for its subsistence, absorbs big doses of CO2, has countless properties and is suitable to multiple usages: also the blades (the leaves) are edible, they are cut into little cubes and cooked in the pan or fried. Their juice is boiled and drank or it’s used for cosmetics as an ingredient for the creams, given its high concentration of C vitamin that makes it a powerful antioxidant and to its astringent properties as it exerts a vasoconstrictor action.

The umpteenth possible use of the prickly pear plant was discovered by two Mexican men, who succeeded, after a study on the prickly pear blades peel that lasted two years, in creating a vegetable and sustainable leather fabric out of this material. They are Adrián López and Marte Cazárez, the two young men that gave to this plant, the most widespread, as well as symbol of Mexico, the possibility to be exploited at 360 degrees. Just like the Filipinos pineapple cultivators, another plant from which we get a nice vegetable leather, also Maltrimeexican farmers receive, this way, a second income on the selling of a product that, otherwise, would be a waste material once deprived of the juice.

Beyond the fact that we are assisting to a great process of changing at a cultural level, for which the optics of the sustainable and ecological is in expansion, the peel of the prickly pear blades, that costs 25 euro per metre, is unquestionably more economic that real leather, inserting itself on the fashion market as a competitive product also at a cost level.