What Does Cactus Taste Like?

Being relatively new to a plant-based diet, I was inspired to expand my foodie horizons. The cactus came up as a hit when I researched new and interesting plants to try out. However, I realized I had no idea what cactus could taste like and in what dishes I could incorporate it.

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Cactus tastes like a green vegetable, similar to okra. The taste is unique but can be associated with green beans, green bell peppers, and asparagus. There is a slightly sour undertone and citrus taste that underlines the predominant green vegetable flavor.

There are different types of cacti, and not all are edible. The most well-edible one is the prickly pear cactus, native to Mexico and consumed in other countries. Cooking cactus is a common occurrence in Mexican cuisine, often even called a superfood. You can prepare this versatile plant in various ways.

The Flavor And Texture Of Cactus

The paddles or pads of the prickly pear cactus are called nopales, which is the part that you can eat.  The paddles shouldn’t be confused with the prickly pear cactus fruit, which can also be eaten but tastes different. Nopales are how cactus is mainly referred to in Mexican dishes.

Edible cactus tastes a little different to different people. The consensus is that nopales are seen as green vegetables and taste similarly. Many people say that the taste is like okra or green beans, but more on the sour side. There is also a citrus undertone or lemony flavor, as some people say.

When you bite into a piece of the cactus pad, especially raw, it has a light crunch and the texture is like bell pepper. However, if the paddles are cooked correctly, they are both crunchy and soft.

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How Do You Prepare Cactus To Be Eaten?

Prickly pear with cutting board, knife flat lay on pink and picnic cloth background

How cactus must be prepared depends on whether you buy it or grow it yourself. If you purchase it at the store or market, then the spines are removed, and you can buy them already chopped up or as whole pads.

If you grow your cactus or get it directly from the source, it is essential to remove the spines. You can do this by shaving off the spines and skin with a knife and using a peeler for the edges. It is recommended to shave in both directions to ensure that all the spines are removed. The thick base of the paddle should also be cut off.

To prepare the nopales for cooking, you can use various ways. Depending on which dish you want to include it in, the paddle can be cut up into strips or small cubes. You could also just cut the nopales in half lengthwise if you need a more significant piece for grilling.

Another important tip is to rinse the cactus pads properly so that the sliminess decreases. However, this sticky juice also evaporates when you cook, so grilling or frying them in the pan without excess liquid would work well.

How Do You Eat Cactus?

Nopales can be eaten raw or cooked. The natural cactus can be squeezed into a juice or made into a jam. If you prefer a cooked version of cactus, it is probably easiest to sauté the completely prepared nopales. Add in other vegetables for different flavor profiles and dishes.

A common way that cactus is eaten when cooked is in tacos. Here you can experiment with other ingredients and sauces but still enjoy the prominent flavor of the nopales. These meals are an excellent option for a vegan or vegetarian version of tacos.

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Another favorite way that people often eat cactus is with scrambled eggs. Add some beans and fluffy tortillas, and you have a healthy balanced meal for any time of the day.

Is It Healthy To Eat Cactus?

prickly pear

There is a range of suggested health benefits associated with eating prickly pear cactus. Nopal pads contain large amounts of Vitamin C and E as well as fiber and antioxidants. They are also high in minerals such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

Drinking nopal juice may help lower blood sugar and cholesterol. Because of the high amounts of vitamins and minerals, the plant has many anti-inflammatory properties. Nopales have also been used in traditional medicine, mainly in Mexico, to treat numerous ailments, including live conditions, glaucoma, and fatigue.

Does Fresh Cactus Taste Better Than Canned Cactus?

Bowl with fresh ripe colorful prickly cactus fruit

The answer depends on what flavor you want in the dish you’re making. Fresh nopales tend to taste a little tarter than the canned ones. Often the canned versions are also pickled, which adds a slightly different taste to the nopales and may change the type of dish you want to add them in.

Canned nopales may be the way to go for convenience’s sake, as the preparation has already been done. The cactus only needs to be rinsed and drained, and then it is ready to cook in whichever way you like.

What Does Cactus Fruit Taste Like?

As with different types of cacti, there are also other types and tastes of cacti fruit. The fruit of the cactus, specifically the prickly pear cactus, is called the prickly pear. In contrast to the slight sourness of the nopal pad, the prickly pear fruit is more on the sweeter side. It is not too sweet, a little bland in fact, and similar to a melon.

Just like the cactus pads, the fruit also needs to be prepared before eating. The spines must be removed (if not already done by the supermarket). You will still need to remove the thick skin using a sharp knife. You can either eat the fruit as is with the tiny seeds, or you can add it to juices, smoothies, sorbets, and jellies for a sweet treat.

So, What Does Cactus Taste Like?

Prickly Pear

Edible cactus, more commonly known as prickly pear cactus and nopales, tastes similar to other green vegetables like okra, asparagus, and green beans. However, there is a hint of sourness paired with a citrus undertone.

Nopales are a well-known dish in Mexican cooking, where they can be added to many of the traditional dishes, such as tacos. It is high in vitamins and minerals and an overall healthy addition to your meals.