NAGOYA – A major cactus-producing city in Aichi Prefecture is developing food products using a locally grown variety in hope of raising the profile of the plant amid a decline in farmers.
Broiled pork and prickly pear on skewers, Madeleine cake made using prickly pear powder and ramen made with the cactus are just a few of the recipes created under a project in the city of Kasugai.
Prickly pear is high in calcium and other nutrients and commonly eaten in Mexico. But in Japan, it is mainly grown for ornamental purposes.
Farmer Hiromitsu Goto, 36, has set up a special greenhouse for the edible cactus to support the Kasugai Saboten Project, launched by the city’s chamber of commerce and farmers in 2006. Saboten means cactus in Japanese.
“Since we are seeing a boom in cactus and other succulents in recent years again, we hope the number of young farmers will increase with the trend,” Goto said.
The city, which has a population of some 300,000, grows about 200 different types of cactus. Farming of the plant expanded after Typhoon Vera devastated its peach and apple orchards in 1959, leading their owners to switch to the cacti they had been growing on the side.
When Japan’s cactus boom began in the 1960s, the city had more than 50 farmers producing the plant, but that has since dropped to only a handful due to aging.
Fearing cactus farmers would disappear from the city, the promotional project was launched in cooperation with local restaurants to develop food products using prickly pear.
The latest product released under the project is Saboten Sui, a carbonated drink with the slight grassy taste of prickly pear.
Masaya Takagi, 39, of the Kasugai Chamber of Commerce, recommends mixing the drink with fruit juice or alcoholic beverages. The city aims to sell the cactus drink nationwide.