How to Use the Nopal and Cactus Pear Fruit in Raw Food Recipes
In Northern California it’s cactus pear season right now. You might have seen these colorful little spiny cactus fruits around, but weren’t sure how to eat them. Well here is a little guide to these delicious and nutritious prickly pear fruits and their stems, also known as nopales.
The fruit of the nopal cactus are commonly called prickly pear fruit, cactus figs, cactus pears, Indian figs, or tuna. I have seen them in many color variations including a bright deep magenta, light yellow, light orange, and light green. They are available in California in early fall and are generally available only in the western hemipshere, such as the West of the United States, Mexico, Southern Europe, and South Africa. Tunas grow mostly in desert, semi-desert, grasslands, and Mexico has the most species. They are very hardy plants and in some places they grow like weeds. In California I have seen them growing wildly, in neighbor’s yards, at my local farmer’s market, and Mexican Super Markets.
- Besides tasting lovely, both the fruits and pads of the prickly pear cactus are rich in slowly absorbed soluble fibers that supposedly help keep blood sugar stable and the fruit contain a high amount of antioxidants.
It is really important that you purchase them de-spined; if you do pick them yourself be extremely careful. And never ever eat the skin! If you cut them in half they have some really great fruit inside that you can easily scoop out. The fruit inside is full of super hard seeds that you can swallow, but I prefer to blend the cactus fruit and then strain out the seeds with a fine mesh strainer or sprout bag.
- The fruit tastes like a cross between a pear and a melon with the consistency of a mealy watermelon. It makes for a great drink like the one below:
This is a great non alcoholic drink, super light, refreshing, and delicious!
2 cactus pears fruits (sliced in half with the fruit scooped out)
1 cup young coconut water
squeeze of lime
Make sure to scoop out the fruit from the cactus pear. Do not eat the skins! Blend the nopal cactus pear meat and the coconut water in a blender for 10-20 seconds and then squeeze the mixture through a sprout bag to strain out the seeds. Top with a squeeze of lime if desired. Makes about 16 ounces.
Nopales: The Stem of The Cactus Pear
Nopales, also known as prickly pear cactus or paddle cactus are actually the stems of the cactus pears. They have a slight tart flavor and a crisp yet mucilaginous consistency. In traditional Mexican cuisine they are usually cooked, but I have found them a nice addition to smoothies and blended soups. Just make sure you remove the spines first!
- Nopales are very rich in insoluble and especially soluble dietary fiber.
- They are also rich in vitamins (especially vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K, but also riboflavin and vitamin B6) and minerals (especially magnesium, potassium, and manganese, but also iron and copper). Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nopal
They are more widely available than the cactus pears, and you can find them at almost any supermarket in California and especially in Mexican Markets. Sometimes you can find them with the spines already removed and in little bags already chopped up for you. Just be aware that you must use the cacti without spines very quickly as they are vulnerable to bacteria.
If you do buy them with the spines, it is easy to take the spines off with a good sharp chef’s knife. I like to first cut my cactus in half and chop of the top, bottom, and sides to remove the spines. Then I lay the knife flat against the cactus and remove the top layer of skin along with the spines.
This is what it should look like after the spines are removed:
Then I chop them up and use them in a smoothie. Here is a good one:
Cantaloupe Cactus Cooler
1 Nopal Cactus Leaf (spines removed)
2 cups coconut water
2 cups chopped Cantaloupe
2-4 drops liquid Stevia
Carefully remove spines from the nopal cactus and chop into pieces. Add all ingredients into the blender except for the lime. Taste for desired sweetness and top off with a squeeze of lime. Makes about 32 ounces.
I had this for breakfast the other day, mmmmmm! The melon seemed to digest well with the cactus for me.
I hope I’ve encouraged you to not be scared of the prickly pear cactus and maybe even try your hand at eating one soon:)