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The Pre-Hispanic vegetable Nopal or Nopalli (in the Aztec language, ‘Nahuatl’, it means "to stand" as the growth of its leaves is limited) has a special link with a legend of the foundation of Mexico. It tells that the ancient Aztec people, in the 6th century, began to peregrinate, looking for the sign of the promised land to found a city for them, given by the God Huitzilopochtli as a divine revelation. The divine revelation was very precise: ‘Find an eagle lying down on a nopal, and that will be the promised land for the foundation of the city.’ The exact place was found around 1323 near the lake of Texcoco, which became Tenochtitlán, and is now known as Mexico City. This city was believed to become the centre of the most powerful empire that dominated the whole of Mesoamerica, including the current territories of six Central American countries, namely, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize, part of Honduras, and Costa Rica.
The nopal has been a traditional Mexican food since Pre-Hispanic times. In Mexican homes, nopal’s thorns are removed and then it is finely cut into tables or strips, cooked, roasted or boiled. It can be a main meal, combined with chicken to make the typical barbecue dish of the country, as well as be used in a salad mixed with tomato, onion, cilantro, olive oil, and cheese. The nopal can also be consumed as a juice with pineapple and celery. It is a vegetable that is very versatile and easy to prepare for many people, which is why it has been widely used from ancient times to ourmodern days in the kitchen and as medicine, cosmetic or even as an ornament.
Numerous studies in Mexican universities have revealed the properties of the nopal. It has highly curative properties owing to it containing fiber, calcium and vitamins B1, B2, B3 and C. It is said that eating nopal can have positive effect on people’s health. As a cosmetic, it helps in strengthening the nails. The liquid or slime of napal also can be used for cosmetic purpose like natural a lipstick to moisturize the lips.
Nopal can be produced throughout the year because it does not need huge water supply. Also, since it is reagrded as a highly productive vegetable, Mexico has 11 thousand producers of Nopal with its production of 777,000 tons per year. Among those, in 2016, 4,000 tons of Nopal was delivered to Los Angeles, MacAllen, Maryland, and Atlanta in USA, while 10 tons was exported to foreign countries such as Germany, Spain, Belgium, France, England, Netherlands, and Switzerland.
 The Mexican NopalThe Mexican Nopal

Reported by Asociación de Ex-Becarios de AOTS México-Japón A.C.
(HIDA/AOTS Alumni Association in Mexico City)

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