The cactus leaf on the plate is trendy. Whether from the grill or as a smoothie – the prickly plant is considered healthy and is preparing to become a superfood. We reveal how you can turn the cactus into a delicious summer salad.
Are all cactus edible?
In the recent years we have experienced a boom in plant-based diets and of course the cactus could not be missed out. What kind of cactus can you eat? Of course, it is something that has been known from the oldest civilizations. In fact, the prickly pear has been a very important source of nutrition for the peoples of Mesoamerica for more than 12,000 years.
Prickly pear cacti are part of Mexican cuisine like mole or tacos – whether in a salad, in a stew or as an alternative to grilled meat. The edible cactus leaves, called nopales in Spanish, are a simple side dish there and are eaten there just as naturally as the potato in America.
Surprisingly, this prickly food is one of the healthiest foods that can be included in our daily diet, as it is rich in vitamins and nutrients and provides many additional benefits. The plants were considered a natural medicine, should help with weight loss and protect against diabetes—it was only a matter of time before the prickly fruit, along with chia seeds and goji berries, became part of the series of superfoods queues. Cooking with the prickly plant has long been a trend in America. It is used in smoothies as well as breaded as a vegetable schnitzel alternative.
As more people discover its great qualities, cactus foods and drinks make their appearance in grocery stores, restaurants, and farmers markets around the world.
What kind of cactus can you eat?
Not all cacti are edible, so you do not have to stick your fork in the small cactus that you have next to the computer, or cut the cactus on the windowsill into pieces. Only the young, green shoots of the prickly pear should be eaten.
In Mexico they also consume the barrel cactus, a globose cactus with a round and thick shape. Its scientific name is “echinocactus” (from the Latin ecchinus, sea urchin, for its resemblance to it).
Of the rest of cacti, only the fruits are usually consumed, as in the case of saguaro and dragon fruit or pitaya. Other succulent plants can also be edible, such as the blue agave (with which tequila is made) or the maguey with which pulque or mezcal is made.
Benefits of eating cactus
The Opuntia cactus – the nopal – is a staple in Latin America that is mainly served with eggs and salads due to its health benefits. Rich in phytonutrients, they help reduce cholesterol and sugar level. Its satiating fiber and gelatin-like pectin captures and removes cholesterol from the blood while slowing down the digestion of carbohydrates, helping prevent blood sugar spikes and diabetes. In addition, it provides calcium, potassium, magnesium, sodium, iron, vitamins C, A, iron and calcium.
But how do you eat the cactus leaves without turning your tongue into a pin cushion? No problem: the spines can be easily scraped off with a sharp knife. It is important that the dark areas from which the spines sprout are completely removed. Tip: use gloves. Rinse the leaves with water and then cook as you like.
Cactus Pear Nutritional Benefits
According to the “Nopal Recipe Book” prepared by the Ministry of Rural Development and Equity for Communities, the nopal is a cactus that contains 95% water and is low in calories, provides approximately 27 kcal per 100 grams and has properties antioxidants, due to their content of beta carotene, polyphenols and vitamin C.
Nutritional value (per 100 grams):
What does cactus fruit taste like?
What not many people know is that the entire prickly pear cactus is edible. The young leaf of the plant can be eaten as a vegetable in soup or salad. You can eat the fruit, the cactus fig fresh or dried.
In terms of taste, the leaves resemble a cucumber, but not infrequently have a slightly bitter aftertaste and are therefore not for everyone on their own. The fresh fruit is juicy, the taste is somewhere between pear and melon. There’s a lot of little black seeds in there that you can just swallow. The sweet fruit contains fibre, vitamins (A, B1 and B2, C), potassium, calcium, iron and magnesium.
When cooked they have a flavor comparable to green beans and a texture similar to that of okra. Others say they have a nice lemon flavor and are slightly crunchy like bell peppers.
How can we eat cactus?
There are several ways to prepare cacti that are not tasteless when it comes to eating. It may seem intimidating at first, but it’s simpler than it sounds.
The shoots of prickly pear cacti can be considered a vegetable because they do not have woody stem parts. These should be washed well, then cut and boiled or grilled and then added to quesadillas, sauces, fajitas, salads or served as a garnish. They can also be eaten raw, although the bitter taste may not excite everyone. Nopales pair well with the flavor of cheese, chili peppers, cilantro, corn, eggs, lemon, lime, onions, oregano, salsa, chives, sweet peppers, tomato, tortillas and tropical fruits.
Cacti candy is obtained from the highly water-retaining cacti stem. It is mainly the Echinocactus and Ferocactus that are used here because they contain the most water and form thirst-quenching candies. The sweets were already used by the Indians.
When preparing the cacti, the thorns are first removed by cutting the ribs lengthwise. Then the bottom is cut off. Then it is cut into strips and divided into pieces. These steps always happen on site because the pieces are easier to transport than whole cacti. Then they are cooked. After a few days they are drained and ready to eat. The candy is very sweet because the plant juice is naturally very sweet.
There are several drinks made from cacti. Cactus genera are particularly popular in European areas. However, these are drinks aimed at making money. Yet these cactus processing processes have no tradition in the country of origin.
Can you eat prickly pear seeds?
The inside of the prickly pear is juicy and fresh, with plenty of seeds. When the prickly pear is not very big, it can be eaten whole (including the seeds), but care must be taken not to eat too much because the seeds can cause constipation. If eaten moderately, the prickly pear seeds are beneficial to us.
Prickly pear seeds benefits
The seeds that this fruit contains helps us reduce constipation problems. It is also used to combat gastritis, heartburn and gastric ulcer.