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🍏 "How Cactus is Used for Fashion, Fuel & Food"

Climate Cuisine

Photo by George Pagan III / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: Clarissa Wei
Guests: John Cushman | Professor of Biochemistry | University of Nevada Reno &
Adrián López Velarde | Co-CEO | DESSERTO
Category: 🍏 Sustainable Food

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[3:09] CW: “Growing up in Southern California cacti, specifically prickly pears, were just a part of the scenic backdrop for me, an afterthought. […] I’d see it while hiking but never paid too much attention to it. But for the Hispanic American community around me, it has always been a staple. The large green pads known as nopales can be roasted and grilled, served in a salad or a stew. And the vibrant pink fruit known as tuna can be blended in a lush and refreshing beverage. It's an ideal ingredient for a changing climate because of its sheer hardiness. Cactus is not only drought resistant, but it has an incredible storage capacity for water. Some varieties can actually absorb as much as 200 gallons of water during a rainstorm.

[15:12] JC: “Cactus is also used for many other purposes [besides food]. So it's fed to livestock as either a forage or it can be harvested and diced and fed as fodder. And also it's used as a biofuel feedstock for the production of biogas and bio ethanol.”

[15:34] CW: “Some varieties of cacti use 80% less water than traditional crops. And it can be used as a biofuel, which means it can be an alternative to water-heavy crops like soybeans and corn in the near future. […] 42% of land area around the world is already classified as semi arid or arid. This figure will only increase with climate change. And the good news is that these are the conditions that cacti actually thrive in.”

[16:44] JC: “[Cacti are] an amazingly productive plant. The other thing that amazed us is that it's very water use efficient. The optimal productivity was obtained with just 416 millimeters of precipitation a year. […] That is about five fold less water than you would use for other kinds of crops. So the water use efficiency, the low water input, and yet having a very high productivity of biomass on an annualized basis was what really amazed us.”

[17:34] JC: “The productivity […] is comparable to those other feedstocks for biofuels. So soybean is used for biodiesel, and corn or maize is used for bio ethanol right now. And our study showed that our cactus crops provided comparable productivity, but with much less water input. In terms of biofuel, the cactus shows a great deal of promise. And in terms of forage and fodder, a lot of studies have been done looking at animal feeding. And you can replace up to 40% of a cow's diet with cactus and up to 100% of a goat's diet with cactus. And in arid land throughout the world, because the cactus pads themselves are 90% water, those can also provide a water source in areas where water is very limiting.”

[20:51] ALV: “DESSERTO […] [creates] biomaterial based on cactus as an alternative to leather and synthetic materials. Our launch was in October 2019, in Milan, Italy and since then, we have been working with several brands around the globe. Some of the most iconic collaborations involve names like forsale, Adidas, Karl Lagerfeld, H&M. […] [Cacti are] abundant [and] native of Mexico. […] We thought, if the cactus is too efficient and so resilient and can endure such harsh conditions, what if we take all these skills of the plant and evolve them into a biomaterial?”

[24:27] ALV: “Cactus is a very interesting plant, because it gives the opportunity to not only provide jobs in these harsh conditions, but also it is a very interesting plant that can restore soil properties and that can serve as water reserves, because of the amount of water that they can absorb from the humidity present in the environment. So what we do is that we keep it as natural as possible in ways that you don't apply irrigation, […] no herbicides, no pesticides, no fertilizers, it's 100% organic. And beyond that, you have the plant restoring the microflora on the microfauna of soil and reaching biodiversity in the region while absorbing carbon dioxide. And when we harvest the cactus pads, we are not hurting the plant, we are not damaging it. So the roots stay there, the plants stay there. And every six months we are able to do a harvest. And this is also given the strength of the plant and the ability of growing biomass faster than many other crops.”

Rating: 💧💧💧💧

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify | Google
🕰️ 27 min | 🗓️ 03/09/2022
✅ Time saved: 25 min