What Does Cactus Taste Like?

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Being relatively new to a plant-based diet, I decided to expand my food horizons and look for plant-based foods beyond the traditional fruit, veggies and fake meat. During my search, cactus popped up. Of course, I had no idea how cactus tasted or how to prepare it. But now I know and I’m here to tell you about it.

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.

About Cactus

There are different types of cacti, and not all are edible. The most widely eaten cactus – actually its fruit – is the prickly pear cactus, native to Mexico but consumed around the world. But several other varieties can be eaten.

Besides the fruit or flowers of edible cacti, you can also eat the paddles or pads. You’ll see them referred to as nopales in recipes that include cactus.

The Flavor And Texture Of Cactus

Most consider edible cactus a green vegetable with a flavor similar to okra or green beans, but more on the sour side. Some also taste a citrus or lemon undertone.

When you bite into a piece of the cactus pad, especially raw, it has a light crunch and the texture is like bell pepper. Depending on the cooking method, the paddles can be crunchy or soft.

How Do You Prepare Cactus?

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

The spine is already removed if you purchase cactus at the store or market. You’ll find chopped and whole pads.

If you grow your own cactus or get it directly from a grower, you will need to remove the spines. Use a knife to shave off the spines and a peeler for the edges of the pad. Shave in both directions to remove all the spines. The thick base of the paddle must also be cut off.

Rinse the cactus pads after removing the spines to reduce sliminess unless grilling or pan-frying where the liquid will cook off.

How Do You Eat Cactus?

Nopales can be eaten raw or cooked. Raw cactus can be squeezed into a juice or made into a jam. Pan fry or grill cactus to add eat as is or add to cooked savory dishes for a different flavor profile. Cooked, chopped cactus is often used in tacos or mixed into an egg scramble.

Is It Healthy To Eat Cactus?

prickly pear

Cactus pads contain large amounts of Vitamin C, E, fiber, and antioxidants. They are also high in minerals such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Nopal juice may help lower blood sugar and cholesterol, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.

Nopales have also been used in traditional medicine, mainly in Mexico, to treat numerous ailments, including liver conditions, glaucoma, and fatigue.

Does Fresh Cactus Taste Better Than Canned Cactus?

Bowl with fresh ripe colorful prickly cactus fruit

Fresh nopales taste a little tarter than the canned, unseasoned ones. If using canned cacti, rinse and drain. And be on the lookout for pickled cactus. Like pickled cucumbers, you’ll find sweet and tart versions, eaten directly from the jar, used as a garnish or added to dishes for flavor.

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.  


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