If you have been fond of Mexican delicacies, you would have heard about the dishes involving cactus. Among the different cacti used as food, Nopales appears to be the most popular. They are stated to have an exceptional taste and texture. In fact, the cactus seems to be a hot favourite among a few foodies out there.
Nopales, also known as Nopal cactus, has a tart-like or citrus-like taste. In some cases, it may be slightly bitter to taste. If you have tasted kale and asparagus, you would find it equivalent. If you eat it raw, it would taste crunchy. When cooked, it would taste like steamed okra, and it would become soft and dense. If you grill them, you will experience a sweet taste.
What is Nopales?
Nopals are also called Prickly pear. It belongs to the category of Opuntia plant genre. In terms of the culinary world, it is referred to as Paddles. The fruit of the food is called Tuna. When cooking food, the spines are removed.
The thick skin on the Nopales cactus is removed before cooking. It would be akin to peeling the skin from a ripe mango. They are native to the region of the American Southwest and Mexico. The food is used for Mexican dishes, which include Tacos and salad. The cactus is known to be high in fiber and low in cholesterol. The Nopales are also known to fight against nerve damage.
What Are the Nutritional Benefits of Nopales Cactus?
Nopals is a popular part of the Mexican cuisine. It comes with a unique taste and texture that is comparable to okra and asparagus. It isn’t only tasty, but it also offers nutritional value.
Nopales are an excellent source of dietary fiber. One cup of Nopales cooked offers you 3.7 grams of fiber. It should be equivalent to 15% of the recommended intake of fiber. It should help you in regulating blood sugar levels and improve your digestive health.
Nopales is also rich in vitamins. It has a good concentration of Vitamin C. In addition, it also offers vitamin A, vitamin B6, and vitamin K.
Nopales are also known to be high in antioxidants and help in overall health and well-being. The antioxidants can help you in reducing the damage caused by free radicals.
Nopales are a great source of Magnesium. It is quite essential for bone health, muscle function, and energy production. One cup of cooked Nopales offers around 6% of your daily recommended Magnesium.
That apart, it also offers the following benefits:
- Low in calories: It can be a healthy diet because of lower calorie content. One cup of cooked Nopales contains just around 22 calories. If you are looking to lose weight, Nopales can be a great pick.
- Low in cholesterol: Nopales is also known to be low in cholesterol. It is also low in saturated fat.
What Do Nopales Taste Like When Raw?
When eaten raw, the Nopales cactus offers a crunchy but a slightly citrusy taste. You can ideally compare the taste to Asparagus, Green beans, Green pepper, and Sour lemons. However, when cooked, the taste may change to a considerable extent based on how it is prepared and seasoned.
Sometimes, Nopales may also taste like baked pickles. You may also come across the taste of Nopales to be a bit like tasteless or perhaps a little sweet to taste. You can also use it in raw salads, or you may even cook it into soups, stir-fries, tacos, quesadillas, and more.
What Do Cooked Nopales Taste Like?
The taste of cooked Nopales will be dependent on the way it is prepared and seasoned. You would ideally feel a taste that appears to be close to that of asparagus, Okra and Bell Pepper. You may also equate it somewhat to Asparagus, Green beans, and Sour lemons.
Cooked Nopales can have a moist and crunchy texture. You may also find it a little slimy, as in the case of Okra. If you grill the Nopales, you will find it offering a taste that is a little sweet.
Can You Eat the Nopales Cactus Fruit?
Yes, you can eat Nopales fruit. The fruit is known as Prickly Pear. It can be sweet and can be eaten raw. You can also eat the cactus pads. It is a good idea to eat the fruit in smoothies. You can either eat it raw by simply peeling it or decide to grind up and strain the seeds.
The Nopales fruits are typically in the shape of Avocado. The flesh of the fruit is sweet and juicy. You can perhaps equate the taste to watermelon. You will also find a lot of seeds inside, but the seeds tend to be much smaller in size.
What is the Best Way to Eat Nopales?
You can eat Nopales either raw or cooked. When eaten raw, you can mix it up with other ingredients and mellow the slight bitterness. You can also add it to salads. Another excellent way to eat Nopales is to turn it into smoothies, jams, and tea. Nopales can also be added to several dishes, such as Burritos, Quesadillas, Fajitas, Mexican omelets, Breakfast tacos, Huevos rancheros, Chorizo breakfast bowls, and many more delicacies.
You can eat Nopales in a variety of ways:
- Grill them: Grilling Nopales is not that easy. However, if you manage to grill it, it would be a truly tasty dish. You can simply cut the cactus into small strips or long pieces. You can even eat the baked cactus with hot sauce and or salt.
- Pan-fried Nopales: Another best way to eat Nopales is to pan-fry them. This is the best option if you do not like a more extended cooking session. Boil them and cut them into small or long pieces as per your preference. Fry them in a bit of oil, and you are done.
- Pickled cactus: A pickled cactus should ideally be similar to the cucumber pickle.
Are All Cactus Edible?
No. Not every cactus you find is edible. Some of them may be toxic or even poisonous. Some of the popular edible cacti include Dragon fruit, Prickly pear or Nopales, Barrel, Cholla, Saguaro, Sword pear, Browningia candelaris, and Cereus repandus.
The edible parts of a cactus generally include fruits, leaves, and pods. Some of these parts can be eaten raw, while some others may need to be eaten only after cooking or boiling. If you are unsure about whether a cactus is safer to eat or not, it is best to stay away.
Some of the cacti that are edible would include:
- Hylocereus undatus: This cactus is also known as White-fleshed pitahaya. It is one of the most widely grown cactus varieties. The cactus is known the world over for its dragon fruit. It is generally known as pitaya or strawberry pear.
- Peruvian Apple Cactus: The cactus is known as Cereus repandus. It has an edible apple like fruit. It tastes almost similar to Nopales or Prickly Pear. It comes with a texture like a watermelon.
- Saguaro cactus: This is the largest among the cacti. The cactus fruit grows at the top of a tall cactus plant. It turns red once it ripens.
- Barrel cactus: Almost every part of the Barrel Cactus is edible. You can eat the paddles, fruit, and petals.
It may be noted that most of the cacti or its fruits do not give you a great taste, but they are typically consumed for the nutritional value that they provide. The cacti are typically rich in nutrients like Vitamin C, Beta Carotene, Riboflavin, Thiamine, Vitamin B6, Potassium, Selenium, and Zinc.
How Do You Choose the Best Nopales?
Here are a few tips that should help you if you are looking to get the best Nopales cactus for your culinary purposes:
- Check the colour of the cactus that you are buying. The fresh Nopales should be green in color and should be firm enough to touch.
- Check for any signs of bugs or worms on the cactus you buy or pick. They can result in food contamination.
- Avoid cactus that have any brown marks or spots. This indicates that the cactus is not fresh and may taste bitter.
Nopales is indeed the best addition to your plate. It is widely used in the Mexican dishes. However, you would also find it in use in a variety of other dishes apart from Mexican. The Nopales are quite versatile and can blend with practically any dish. The trick to get the best is to cook and season them properly.
Is it okay to eat raw Nopales?
Nopales are edible even when raw. They would ideally look like green peppers when sliced. However, in addition to eating them raw, you may also eat them in the form of juice, jams, or tea.
Are nopales sour?
Nopals are a little citrus like to taste. Sometimes, you would find them bordering on being slightly bitter.
What do grilled nopales taste like?
The grilled Nopales would taste almost like cooked green beans. You would also find it a little like spring asparagus.
Are Nopales easy to digest?
The fiber in the Nopales can help reduce constipation and diarrhoea. However, too much fiber can also lead to a few digestive issues.