Most cooking enthusiasts experiment with different plants to make healthy, tasty meals. If you have a cactus growing in your backyard or indoor garden, you might wonder whether it’s edible.
Generally, homeowners grow cacti as ornamental plants. Their succulent green stems and stunning blooms can add more color to your home.
Besides brightening your home with their green stems and colorful flowers, some cacti parts are edible. But is a cactus a vegetable or a fruit?
If you want to be creative in your recipes, we’ll help you answer this question. You’ll also learn how you can eat cacti and its health benefits.
Is Cactus a Vegetable?
Cactus is a vegetable. You can prepare it as a single dish or add it to other foods like quesadillas, salads, fajitas, or sauces. The freshly green pads are the only part of a cactus considered a vegetable. These parts (also called nopales or cactus paddles) grow from the stem as shoots.
The green pads don’t feature the woody stem, making them edible when cooked or eaten raw. However, they have prickly spines that can injure your hands or tongue. The spikes can also cause allergic reactions.
If you leave them in your flesh, they can collect bacteria and result in infections. You’ll need to remove the spines when preparing your cactus.
Is a Cactus a Fruit?
You can consider cactus a vegetable or fruit depending on the part you’re consuming. While some cacti contain edible pads and fruits, others might not.
The Prickly Pear cactus contains edible fruits and pads. Cacti fruits (prickly pear or tuna) grow on top of the pads. The fruit can be red, yellow, purple, or green. When ripe, the cactus fruit is delicious. You can eat it raw or squeeze the colorful juice and add it to your favorite fruit juices.
Like the green pads (nopales), the cacti fruit has prickly spines that can injure your hands or tongue. So, ensure you remove the spines before eating the fruit.
Which Other Parts of a Cactus Are Edible?
Below we look into other cactus parts you can eat depending on the plant species.
- Flowers: If you have edible cacti that bloom in summer, you can eat their flowers. You can cook them as vegetables or incorporate them into other dishes. For the best results, cook the unopened flower buds of the cactus.
- Seeds: The inside of cacti fruit (prickly pear) contains edible seeds. If you want to eat the seeds due to their health benefits, harvest the fruit while still immature. These seeds will help you combat gastric ulcers, constipation, and heartburn.
How to Consume a Cactus
Is a cactus a vegetable? Cacti can be vegetables or fruits. Let’s get creative and discover how to enjoy cacti as a vegetable or fruit.
Eat Your Cactus Raw
You can eat cactus vegetables raw by pairing them with your favorite flavors. However, raw cactus tastes bitter and might be a turnoff to some people.
If you prefer eating raw cactus, remove the prickly spines, clean and chop them into cubes. Add tomatoes, onions, sweet pepper, or tropical fruits to prepare salads.
Cook Your Cactus
If you don’t like the bitter taste of raw cactus, you can boil, bake, fry, or grill it. Then, add the cooked cactus to salads, sauces, fajitas, or quesadillas. Alternatively, serve it as a garnish.
Make Cacti Juice
The cacti pads or fruits can make healthy and tasty juices. You can put the green pads or the prickly pear in a blender to make a smoothie. Then add your favorite fruit juice to the smoothie to enhance its taste.
Make Cacti Candy
If you have the Echinocactus or Ferocactus varieties in your garden, you can use them to obtain candy. These cacti varieties retain a lot of water in their stems. The plant juice is also naturally sweet, making them ideal for preparing candy.
Start by cutting the stems and removing the thorns. Cut the stems further into smaller pieces and cook them. The drained juice will be ready to eat as candy in a few days.
Which Types of Cacti Are Safe to Eat?
Many types of cacti are safe to eat, but you must go for the edible parts. All cacti of the family Opuntia are safe to consume. Some include the Prickly Pear, Barbary fig, Bunny ears, Opuntia stricta, and Mexican giant cactus.
Other cactus species you can consume include the Elephant bush, Dragon fruit, Saguaro, Cerius Peruvianus, and Barrel cactus.
What if you have cacti in your backyard and don’t know whether they contain toxins? The most relevant question would be, which cacti are poisonous?
Here’s a list of cactus varieties considered poisonous:
- Christmas cactus
- Fishhook Barrel cactus
- Peyote cactus
- San Pedro cactus
- The Peruvian torch
- Cholla cactus
These cacti contain toxic compounds, particularly psychedelic alkaloids, in their stems, leaves, flowers, and pads. When ingested, the toxin hardly goes through the digestive system, leading to vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, hallucination, and paralysis.
Benefits of Consuming Cactus
Cactus can be a healthy part of our recipes when harvested and prepared correctly. Edible cacti have both nutritional and health benefits. Cactus is rich in iron, Vitamins B and C, calcium, fiber, and potassium. It’s also a good source of water because the plant contains 95% water.
Let’s discuss the benefits you’ll get by incorporating cactus fruit or vegetable into your dishes:
They have antiviral properties: Cacti of the Opuntia family – such as the Prickly Pear – contain antiviral properties. When eaten, they can help fight viruses like HSV (herpes simplex virus) and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus).
Protecting the nerve cells: A cactus plant such as the Prickly Pear can guard nerve cells against infections. It also helps your body to regenerate cells. This study found that Prickly Pear has neuroprotective properties that protect nerve cells.
Cactus contain antioxidants: Free radicals can damage our cells. However, by eating cacti, particularly the nopal cactus, you can add more antioxidants to your body to reduce oxidative stress.
Cactus can treat an enlarged prostate: The nopal cactus effectively treats enlarged prostate and prostate cancer. Patients with these conditions should consume Prickly Pear cactus flowers to alleviate enlarged prostate symptoms.
Regulates blood sugar level: People with diabetes can greatly benefit from consuming cacti. If you have a Prickly Pear at home, you can eat it to control your blood sugar level.
Controls cholesterol level: Nopal cactus is rich in fiber that can help reduce cholesterol levels in your body.
Boosts immunity: The Vitamin C in cactus increases white blood cells fighting viruses and infections.
Reduces hangovers: The anti-inflammatory properties in cactus fruit can help reduce hangovers. It inhibits inflammation and prevents symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, and loss of appetite.
So, Is a Cactus a Vegetable or a Fruit?
This perennial plant can be a vegetable or fruit, depending on the part you’re eating. The edible parts of a cactus are the green pads (vegetables) and the fruit. You can also eat the flowers and seeds of an edible cacti. Don’t eat the toxic cacti varieties to avoid health issues like hallucination, vomiting, nausea, and paralysis.
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