Nopal occupies an important place in our culture, not only because of its considerable presence in the vegetation but also its broad utility. Traditionally, people harvested the leaves because of the ease with which they grow, and the fruit for fresh consumption or for preservation by drying. Over time, certain prickly pear species were favored in their natural environment and as an important part of the diet. With the development of agriculture and the increase of the cultivation of fields, natural vegetation began to be selectively removed, preserving only those wild plants that provided some benefit. Thus, the most agreeable or interesting and useful varieties were favored according to the criteria of each people.
Where vegetables are scarce, prickly pearitos are a main food; this dish is served prepared with venison or turkey. The flowers are cooked in sumptuous sauces and the xoconostles eaten raw or cooked. Various juices and sweets are made with the tunas, as well as a fermented beverage called colonche or tuna wine. The former use of the leaves as food for turkeys had been extended to the cattle brought by the Spanish, prompting the appearance of pastures which promote the growth of prickly pear. When food is scarce the spines are burnt off and the prickly pear used as fodder. Currently, certain traditional products are widely marketed and innovations are being developed in order to respond to expanding markets.