Figs of India (Prickly Pears) in Calabria


So called prickly pears or “Figs of India” (fiku d’innia in local dialect), Imported since ancient times in Calabria ,  are the only fruits not treated with any kind of chemical additives, because they grow spontaneously and in abundance in the warmest areas.

This fruit with purifying and refreshing effects, typically maturing in summer, appears to be among the most purchased in Calabria in the period from May to September.


It is impossible to cross Calabria and not to notice the numerous plants of prickly pears, present above all in stony places, an integral part of the South Italian landscape. They stand out with their intense green color enlivened by the red, yellow and orange of the fruits, so characteristic as to constitute an aspect of the Calabrian territory, and in a particular way in the areas of Tropea and its neighboring countries.

A Typical Calabrian Landscape

Prickly pears (in Botanic latin: opuntia ficus indica) belong to the Cactaceae family, they arrived in Italy after a very long journey. Native to South America, this plant lives luxuriantly in the Cordillera of the Andes and in the Mexican greenhouses. The plant made her first appearance in Europe thanks to Christopher Columbus who would take prickly pears to Spain. Some historical sources instead declare that it would have been the Saracens to introduce the figs of India in Italy when, in 827, they landed in Mazara, in Sicily.


On the other hand, the plant is very pleasant to see. Both from an aesthetic and a botanical point of view, this plant has fleshy leaves full of thorns, which overlap thus generating a shrub.

A plenty of colors

Its flowers are yellow and the ovoid-shaped fruits grow on top of spiny large “blades” (some large fleshy leaves). Their pulp, juicy and rich in vitamins, contains numerous woody seeds.


As said before, the prickly pear has an important peculiarity: it does not require chemical interventions to develop and is therefore one of the very rare varieties of fruit that is not tampered with by man.

Juicy and Vitaminic

It is therefore a product recommended for our tables and for the Mediterranean diet, in which it enters fully for its quantity of vitamins and water.


Prickly pears have many beneficial properties and have a purifying function also in the liver, therefore they are recommended in cases of kidney stones as they favor diuresis. Taken in the right quantities they have a laxative effect even if the woody seeds contained in the pulp can cause constipation. In addition, the large fleshy leaves of the plant are used to treat various diseases such as angina, tonsillitis, coughs, fevers, suppurations and abscesses.


Harvesting of prickly pears requires a technique that is still not mechanized as today the characteristic “coppo” is used, a sort of cone-shaped container on the tip of a stick, employed in order to avoid the annoying and very numerous and light thorns.

Tropea Onion: Calabrian survivor


There is a product which does not show the sign of time passing by: a bulb made up of layers of purplish-red tunics, oval, long or round, the red (violet) “onion of Tropea”.

This everlasting fruit of the land of Calabria is authentic and mediterranean, known of different varieties, including spring onions, early store onions and late harvest onions.

Pliny the Elder cited this vegetable in his “Naturalis Historia”, declaring that it was curative as well as more nourishing and tasty. And it is impressive the fact that in that ancient land, Calabria, even if it was invaded by Greeks, Arabs, Franks, this onion survived to these cultural passages.  Namely, many historical and bibliographic sources attributed the introduction of the onion to the Phoenicians and later the Greeks. Historians since 1700 and 1800 spoke of red-violet onions of Tropea.

Due to its unique sweetness, Tropea onion is the most famous and appreciated onion of Calabria, abroad. It grows, typically, on the cliffs that descend from Mount Poro towards the sea between Cape Vaticano, Zambrone, Tropea and Briatico, in the provinces of Cosenza and Vibo Valentia, but the larger land of this onion is the coastal medium-high Tyrrhenian of Calabria, areas of the provinces of Cosenza, Catanzaro and Vibo Valentia, where the cultivars belong to fresh soils, overlooking the sea, with conditions of humidity, typical of the area of the upper-middle of the Tyrrhenian coast of Calabria.

The cultivars of Tropea’s onions, belonging to the lily family, are three:

  • “cipolla da serbo”, dry, crunchy, sweet;
  • “cipollotto”, sweet, soft and white;
  • “cipolla fresca”, more red/violet, with a long stem.

The fruit is sweet, fleshy and light, with a rather delicate fragrance, so that it is excellent for preparing lots of different dishes. Nowadays, it is essential to so many recipes that they cannot miss such element, for example any Calabrian daily soups, omelettes, jams, salads fresh and sweet delights of summer. Further, Tropea onion can be prepared in several different ways: baked, boiled, for production of delicious onion marmalade, as appetizer and on roasted peppers.

The fruit has, anyway, many organoleptic properties, given that it is diuretic and laxative and highly digestible and rich in vitamins. It is so rich in antioxidants and healthy as well as excellent anti-inflammatory, that sometimes we can even forget to remember its unmistakable sweet flavor. Further, recent studies have again shown that this onion has further hypoglycemic and anticancer properties, in addition to its antiseptic functions, alleviating both cold and flu symptoms. It was evidenced that it strengthens the cells and tone the arteries, lowers blood pressure, and can be used in dermatology.