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What does Nopales Cactus Taste Like?

Nopales cactus has quickly become a hot new food trend, but cooks who are unfamiliar with it often wonder what it tastes like.  So, what does Nopales cactus taste like?

Nopales cactus can have a variety of tastes depending on how it is cooked. The flavors often are described as being slightly bitter, tart, a little sour with an overall citrus-like flavor. Ultimately, cactus tastes like a mixture of bell pepper and okra.

But that doesn’t really do this amazing vegetable justice. So let’s keep digging in further. After all, this cool veggie has so many uses and ways it can be prepared, that it’s incredibly versatile.

The rest of this article will answer some key questions related to eating Nopales cactus:

  • What does cactus leaf taste like?
  • Is cactus good to eat?
  • Can you eat Nopales cactus raw?
  • Are all cactus edible?

What Does Cactus Leaf Taste Like?

Many people who have tasted cactus will say it is either bitter or tasteless. Others may describe the taste as similar to baked pickles. For others, cactus is acidic, slightly citrusy, or even sour.

Cactus paddles are also said to have a crunchy texture. And even though they are soft, they have a sticky touch like okra.

Ultimately, the taste and consistency of cactus depend on the cooking method.

Baked or grilled cactus has a grassy taste likened to asparagus. If you add cactus chops to your vegetable stew, it is likely to blend and lose its natural sour taste.

Added to other ingredients, Nopales may also mimic the taste of eggplants or green beans. Some people consider cactus chops or slices to be a suitable replacement for lemon in dishes where a sprinkle of lemon is required.

The taste of cactus also depends on harvest time, as harvesting cactus during cooler periods of the day and year reduces its acidity.

While a cactus meal may not be the most delectable dish, adding it to your menu offers a contrasting texture to the crisp of typical starch and protein dishes.

One of the ways I love to prepare nopales is griddled on my comal.

If you don’t know the comal, it’s an essential item in Latin kitchens! It’s often clay, but cast iron is more readily available in the US. Picture a flat disc, sometimes with a handle.

They are designed to sit over an open flame or on a stovetop burner.

But that’s just the beginning of all the cool things you can do with a comal. In a recent article, I break down all the possibilities. So if you’re curious, or own one you rarely use, definitely check it out!

They are good for so many more things than just warming up tortillas. Just click the link to read it on my site.

Is Cactus Good to Eat?

Yes! Cactus is good to eat.

It has the crunch of bell pepper, and the flavor is a little closer to okra. It is delicious sautéed into almost any dish. But some people prefer it raw. You can also shred it like cabbage.

The most common types of edible cactus include the Nopales and the young paddles of the Prickly pear cactus.

Nopales paddles are eaten as a vegetable. You can trace their use in the kitchen to Mexico, where it has been a staple food for centuries.

Here are a few of the many ways you can eat a Nopales cactus:

  • Grilled
  • Pickled 
  • Pan-fried and served in tacos
  • Alongside eggs
  • By themselves. 
  • As a soup thickener

If you have friends in India, the Middle East, North Africa, or Australia, they have likely eaten cactus in the past. The Nopales cactus is also becoming common in the US, Canada, and other parts of Europe and America.

Your first encounter with cactus will present ugly-looking paddles.

However, the unattractive texture of cactus is complemented by its wide range of nutritional advantages. Cactus has good amounts of vitamin C, Calcium, Beta Carotene, Potassium, Iron, Magnesium, and Manganese.

Nopal cactus is also rich in dietary fiber and has great detox and anti-inflammatory properties. The red-purple variety of Nopales has the highest amount of antioxidants.

Cactus paddles are not the only edible part of the cactus.

You can eat the petal and fruit, too. If you want, you can also include the petal in salads while the tuna (pear) is consumed as a fruit. Cactus pear is succulent, and its taste is comparable to a watermelon.

You can also use the juicy cactus fruit as a topping on cereal and yogurt, or you can even blend it into a smoothie. You can also make jellies and jams from the fruit.

Tiny chops of the cactus pad can also be added to teas.

Can You Eat Nopales Cactus Raw?

Yes, you can eat Nopales cactus raw.

Shredded cactus – or Nopalitos, as residents of Mexico call it – are a delicacy that you can enjoy raw. The secret to savoring is is preparing a salad with seasonings that bring out its texture and delicate taste.

Once peeled off the thin outer layer and rid of the spines, the cactus paddles are chopped into thin slices and seasoned with lime juice and a sprinkle of paprika. They are allowed to absorb the seasoning for a few minutes and then served as a salad.

If you love assorted salads, you can include cactus chops to your usual tomato, cucumber, lettuce, and carrot salad.

However, there is one important detail to bear in mind: you might be allergic to cactus! You should consult your doctor immediately if you notice any irritations or allergy signs after consuming cactus.

Despite the small possibility of allergies, many people consume raw cactus for its medicinal properties.

Fresh cactus juice from both the paddles and the fruit has been used by many to help manage high blood sugar levels according to the Mayo Clinic. They also report that nopales are “high in fiber, antioxidants, and carotenoids”.

And that’s just scratching the surface of the reported medical benefits.

Are All Cactus Edible?

No, is the short answer. Not all types of cactus are edible!

In fact, some types of cactus are outright poisonous. If you are not 100% sure that it’s safe to eat, stay away from any cactus you encounter. The safest way to eat cactus is to purchase them from the grocery store.

We already mentioned that the commonly consumed type of cactus is the prickly pear. In Mexico, however, they call this Opuntia cacti. The word Nopal actually dates back to the Aztecs.

However, there are other types of cactus whose paddles, fruit, and petals are edible. In some types of cactus, only the fruit is edible.

Here’s an overview of the types of cacti that are edible:

1. Hylocereus undatus

Hylocereus undatus, also known as the White-fleshed pitahaya, is the most cultivated type of cactus. It is especially sought after for its dragon fruit, which is also called a pitaya or strawberry pear.

The texture of the dragon fruit is a lot like kiwi. It’s highly succulent and has a subtle sweetness. If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll need little motivation to savor the sweet taste in this fruit.

2. Peruvian apple cactus

Also known as Cereus repandus, the Peruvian apple cactus has edible, apple-like fruit. Its taste is similar to a Prickly pear’s, and its texture is like a watermelon’s.

3. Saguaro cactus

The saguaro cactus is the largest of the cacti. Its edible fruit grows at the top of the tall plant and turns red from green once it is ripe.

The saguaro fruit also has many black seeds that you can grind into edible flour.

4. Barrel cactus

Like the Prickly pear, all parts of the barrel cactus are edible, including the paddles, fruit, and petal. Only the rough and thorny skin is discarded.

5. Other edible cactus

Here are some other less popular edible types of cacti:

  • Barbary fig
  • Cereus Repandus
  • Organ pipe cactus
  • Mammillaria
  • Peniocereus

Since they don’t give you the ‘wow effect’ when you taste them, the cactus fruits are usually consumed for their nutritional and health benefits.

They are rich in essential nutrients like Vitamin C, Beta Carotene, Riboflavin, Thiamine, Vitamin B6, Potassium, Selenium, and Zinc. Cactus fruits are also rich in antioxidants and have lots of fiber, thanks to their many seeds.

An Extra Word on Handling Cactus

By the time cactus paddles and fruits get to the grocer’s, the needles have already been removed.

However, it’s important to be conscious of the stinging hairs that may still be on the skin even after the needles are gone. Using gloves to handle cactus will save you from pricks.

Of course, it goes without saying that nopales go great in tacos!

If you’re one of the countless people that own a tortilla press but rarely use it, nopales are a great reason to dust it off!

In a recent article, I take the mystery and hassle out of making fresh tortillas and using a tortilla press. Ater all, there’s nothing quite like fresh, homemade corn or flour tortillas. And it’s really not hard!

Just click that link to read it on my site

Final Thoughts

In this article, we took an in-depth look into the world of edible cactus.

We explored which types of cactus are edible. But we also looked at how to prepare them and the amazing nutrient content in them.

Ultimately, though, we answered the question of what does Nopales cactus taste like? The answer is that it’s a complex flavor, but a mix of bell pepper and okra gets you into the right ballpark.

Here are the key takeaways from this article:

  • The Nopales cactus can have a variety of tastes depending on how you cook it. The most common tastes include bitter, sour, acidic, and citrus-like.
  • You can eat Nopales cactus raw. While cooking the cactus often improves the taste, it’s perfectly safe to eat raw Nopales cactus.
  • Not all types of cactus are edible. You should only eat cactus purchased from the grocery store.
  • Whenever you cook a cactus, wear gloves. While the needles are usually removed before sale, a cactus can still hurt your hands with its stinging hairs.

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Jeff Campbell