When many people think of cacti, the first thing that comes to mind are avoiding them while hiking in the desert. But certain types of cacti are actually beneficial to the human diet, such as the nopal cactus (Opuntia strepacantha). This is a desert plant that survives intense heat and drought conditions because of its ability to absorb and retain moisture inside its large, flat, and spiny leaves. Those leaves contain an insoluble fiber that acts as a natural sponge that holds in the water, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. In humans, nopal cactus has shown promising benefits for reducing sugar spiking and cleansing the colon.
This natural diet aid can often be found in Mexican grocery stores and specialty markets and can be used in a variety of delicious recipes. Here are a few recipe ideas to inspire you to try nopal cactus in the kitchen.
Nopal Cactus Tacos
Cactus and Mexican cuisine are a perfect pairing. Try this recipe for your next Taco Tuesday craving.
- 1 pound chicken, steak, fish, or whatever protein you like in tacos
- 4 large nopal cactus paddles
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 8 whole grain tortillas
- Green cabbage
- Sour cream
- Sprigs of cilantro
- Sautéed onions and red peppers
- Hot sauce, optional
- Make your taco protein as you normally would.
- Carefully remove any thorns that are still in the nopal cactus.
- Cut about 1/8 inch around the perimeter of each nopal cactus paddle.
- Cook the cactus with the olive oil in a skillet on the stove over medium-high heat. This should take 3-4 minutes on each side or until lightly browned.
- Slice each piece of cactus into strips.
- Add your cooked protein and cactus into tortillas.
- Garnish with remaining ingredients as desired and enjoy!
Nopal Cactus Salad with Shrimp
If you’re trying to cut carbs in your diet, there are also some great ways to make a nopal cactus salad without the tortillas. Indulge in the culinary spirit of coastal Mexico with this delicious dish.
- 1 pound of nopal cactus paddles
- 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup onion, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced
- 2 tomatoes, diced
- ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
- 2 tsp. oregano
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 1 tbsp. lime juice
- 1 tbsp. white vinegar
- ¼ cup feta cheese
- 2 pounds shrimp, cooked
- Carefully remove any thorns from the cactus and trim off 1/8 inch from the base and around the edges.
- Cut cactus into small cubes.
- Blanch cactus in boiling water until tender (about 5 minutes).
- Drain, rinse, and add other ingredients.
- Allow the salad to sit in the refrigerator for a few hours until chilled.
- Serve and enjoy!
Other Fun Ways to Eat Nopal Cactus
- Add chopped nopal cactus to your favorite soups.
- Mix nopal cactus in with your egg omelet ingredients for breakfast.
- Serve raw nopal cactus slices topped with traditional ceviche ingredients as an appetizer.
- Grill nopal cactus and serve warm with a dash of lemon and sea salt.
Of course as an alternative, you can also take the easier route of stocking up on our freeze-dried nopal cactus capsules. At Seagate, we gather nopal cactus leaves from farms in the remote interior valleys of northern Baja California. These cacti are free of all chemicals, pesticides, and contamination. We receive the cactus leaves, complete with spines, on the day that the leaves are harvested.
These convenient capsules are a great way to get the full health benefits of the nopal cactus plant because three capsules are the equivalent of 1/3 pound of raw cactus. You can also open up the capsules and pour the contents into sweet juices or smoothies to counter the effects of sugar spiking. Just be advised that too much of the powder may cause your drink to taste bitter, so start with just one capsule and add more to suit your taste.