When you think of cactus, what comes to mind is a wicked-looking prickly plant that grows in the desert. It goes by other names like nopales or prickly pear cactus. In Mexico, this edible cactus is eaten as a vegetable and is quite popular.
Prickly pear cactus is edible, that is a known fact. The discovery of an edible cactus should arouse the curiosity of any food enthusiast.
What does cactus taste like? There are different edible parts of the cactus plant: the fruit, the pads, and the flowers. Cactus has a unique taste, some people describe the taste as bitter or tasteless, but cactus has a very mild but sour taste.
The cactus pad has a crunchy feel in the mouth but feels slimy like okra. The taste of the pads can be likened to zucchini or asparagus. The fruit however is sweet and filled with crunchy seeds that create a contrast in texture when you chew. However, the taste of cactus depends on how it is cooked and when it was harvested.
Cactus can be difficult to cook, if you don’t get it right, it won’t taste right. It is for this reason that many people attribute a bitter taste to cactus.
Nutritional Benefits of Cactus
What cactus doesn’t have in looks, it makes up for it in nutritional value. Cactus has neuroprotective capacities that can protect the nerves in the body from nerve damage.
Nerve cells are like every other cell in the body, they can get damaged, causing pain or leading to sensory loss. A study carried out on nopales in 2014 has shown that it is capable of preventing nerve cells from loss of function or damage.
Cacti also happen to possess antioxidant properties. There are aggressive molecules in the body that can cause free radical damage to cells in the body. Nopales is full of antioxidants and is found to be able to relieve oxidative stress. Regardless of age or health conditions, antioxidants are of no harm to anyone.
Once a virus is contracted, it could be hard to get rid of it. The best prevention from a virus is to not contract it at all. Nopales have antiviral properties and it is found to be potent against some viruses.
Preliminary research carried out on cactus has shown that it can proffer antiviral activity against herpes simplex virus (HSV), (HIV), and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
Cactus can also help balance blood sugar levels and relieve blood pressure. For people with diabetes, the inclusion of cactus in their diet can help them manage their insulin levels. Taking nopales together with medication for diabetes can go a long way to keep diabetes in check.
Culinary Uses of Cactus
Cactus is great for consumption, it can be eaten raw or cooked. It is used in many Mexican dishes after the spines have been gotten rid of. It has a crunch that can be likened to bell peppers and a flavor that is quite similar to okra.
Cactus is usually sautéed in dishes, but it can be used in other forms too. Forms like: grilled, together with eggs, all by themselves, pickled, or as a soup thickener.
The paddles, petals, and fruit of the plant can be eaten. The fruit can be consumed as it is but the petals can be used in salads or used to garnish other dishes. The paddles however are mostly eaten as a vegetable.
If you try cooking the paddles all by yourself, you might end up with an ugly-looking dish. But, online recipes can solve that dilemma and help you create a good-looking dish.
The fruit of cactus can be blended into a smoothie or made into jellies and jams. The paddles can be chopped up and added in teas to take advantage of their nutritional value.
Where Does Cactus Grow? How To Procure It?
There are 114 known species of nopales in Mexico. They originate from Mexico and grow in some parts of America. It majorly grows in the central Mexican arid and semi-arid regions.
The plant is cultivated commercially in over 3,000,000 hectares in Mexico. It is usually cultivated on plantations, in the wild, or in family gardens.
Nopales are usually sold fresh in Mexican markets. It is already cleaned of its spines before it is cut to the customer’s desire. You might be able to purchase edible cactus in specialty stores or at farmers’ markets.
Is Cactus a Fruit or Vegetable?
Nopales can be classified as fruits and vegetables. It is one of the very few plants that fall under this category. The greens pads, which are also known as nopalito, are the vegetables. The red-colored pear of the cactus is the fruit. The pads are available all year round, but the fruit is only available in summer.
Facts You Don’t Know About Cactus
- If you drink cactus extract before you go on a drinking spree, you can avoid getting a hangover. A 2004 study carried out on the plant shows that it can greatly reduce the severity of hangovers if you take it before drinking.
- Cactus can be used as a drug in the form of supplements, but it is safer to eat it instead. Eating it doesn’t come with side effects like the supplements do.