If you’ve ever gone hiking in the desert, you know how intimidating the prickly, spiny, and thorny cacti can be along the trails. However, cacti have been used as a source of natural medicine for thousands of years and actually have edible parts that offer excellent health benefits.
To help you look at cacti in a whole new light, here’s an overview of the types of edible cactus plants and tips on how to eat them.
Prickly Pear Cactus
Prickly pear cactus grows throughout the southwestern U.S. and has both pads and fruit that are edible. The pads are called nopales and have an okra-like texture. You can eat the pads raw in a salad or add them to soup. Nopales can also be grilled, baked, cooked with scrambled eggs, and served in tacos and other Mexican dishes. The fruit is sweet and has a watermelon or strawberry-like taste.
To get the nutritional benefits of this cactus without the hassle, try Seagate’s Nopal Cactus capsules to reduce sugar-spiking and for colon cleansing. We gather nopal cactus leaves from farms in the remote interior valleys of northern Baja California and ensure they are free of any chemicals or pesticides.
The barrel cactus fruit looks like small pineapples and has a lemony and tangy flavor. The fruit does not have spines like the cactus itself. Twist off the fruit, cut off the dried flower bud, and slice the fruit in half. You can eat the black seeds in the middle of the fruit as well as the fruit itself by blending them into smoothies or using them in bread dough.
The tall and mighty saguaro cactus has edible fruit that typically grows at the top of the plant. It can be challenging to obtain because it sits 20 feet or higher off the ground and because the saguaro cactus is a rare and culturally significant plant protected by law in some places. But if you are fortunate enough to try it, the fruit of a saguaro is sweet, pulpy, seedy, and packed with antioxidants. You can eat the fruit raw or strain the seeds to make jam.
Another common cactus in the southwestern U.S. is the cholla, which has edible fruit buds. This cactus has sharp spines that can be challenging to harvest. However, you can twist off the buds with tongs and use a blow torch to remove the spines on the fruit. Boil the fruit down with a simple syrup recipe, and then use the syrup over pancakes or in cocktails.
Grown commercially in tropical and subtropical regions, you’ll often find dragon fruit in fruit salads and smoothies. This cactus has leathery skin, scaley spikes, and bright pink fruit. It contains vitamin C, magnesium, and antioxidants, with a taste that can be sweet or sour depending on the ripeness. This cactus fruit is relatively easy to handle and can be cut in half and scooped out with a spoon to eat the flesh.