The Nopal cactus, also known as “prickly pear,” is an edible cactus plant native to the mountains of Mexico. It has been used since ancient times as both a food and as a medicine for its health benefits.
This vegetable-type edible cactus is popular in Mexico and other Central American countries, parts of Europe, the Middle East, India, North Africa and Australia.
The prickly pear plant has two different edible sections: the pad of the cactus (nopal), which can be treated like a vegetable and the pear (tuna), which can be treated like a fruit.
The nopal cactus grows wild throughout the American southwest down to South America and up to Canada.
With a soft but crunchy texture that also becomes a bit sticky (not unlike okra) when cooked, the nopal cactus tastes similar to a slightly tart green bean, asparagus, or green pepper.
Studies have shown that the pectin contained in the nopal cactus lowers levels of “Bad” cholesterol while leaving “Good” cholesterol levels unchanged.
Other study found that the fibrous pectin in the nopal cactus may lower diabetics need for insulin. Both fruits and pads of the nopal cactus are rich in slowly absorbedsoluble fibers that help keep blood sugar stable.
Fiber means Control. This means that you will have less cravings and feel fuller since Nopal is extremely high in fiber. Nopal also has a high vegetable protein that lessens cellulites and water retention in your body.
Nopales, also known as cactus juice or prickly pears, is of the species Opuntia ficus-indica. It is a popular vegetable in Mexican dishes due to its low calories and succulent, green leaves.
Health Benefit 1: Anti- inflammation
The ability of Nopales to fight inflammation in the muscles, arteries, gastrointestinal tract and cardiovascular system is a well known fact. It has also been shown to lower pain in people with urethra and bladder, bladder infections as well as gallstones.
Health Benefit 2: Boost Immune System
The photochemical in Nopales are useful in making the immune system stronger.
Health Benefit 3: Anti-oxidant Properties
Nopales are rich in antioxidants known as betalins.
Health Benefit 4: Fights Cholesterol
The high amounts of soluble fiber in Nopales have been found through research to combat high levels of cholesterol.
Health Benefit 5: Combats Diabetes
Nopales are particularly useful to people suffering from non-insulin diabetes. It has been found to lower and balance blood pressure.
Health Benefit 6: Digestive Health
The functions of the digestion process such as absorbing excess water as well as speeding up bowel movement are enhanced by the insoluble fiber in them.
Health Benefit 7: Nutrient Rich
Nopales are endowed with a variety of minerals and vitamins such as vitamin A, C, K, B6, riboflavin among a host of other minerals such as calcium.
Health Benefit 8: Low Calorie Food
With high content of amino acid, vitamin and minerals, nopales is considered a low calorie food hence beneficial for weigh loss. They contain 17 amino acids, with 8 of them being essential.
Health Benefit 9:Anti-Cancer Properties
Nopales have been found to be beneficial in the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)
Health Benefit 10: Neuroprotective Properties
The stems and fruits of Nopales contain quercetin 3-methyl, flavonoid which is said to a powerful neuroprotector.
Cactus juice, also known as nopales, nopalitos or prickly pear juice, is a popular beverage in Mexico, South America, India, the Middle East and parts of Europe. This beverage has recently caught on in popularity in the United States.
The fleshy oval leaves of the cactus plant have a sticky liquid that is similar to asparagus, green beans or green peppers. The nectar of this plant is composed of water, sugar and minerals.
The Nutritional Value of Cactus Juice
Cactus juice provides you with beta-carotene, vitamin B, vitamin C, iron, magnesium, calcium and numerous other minerals and vitamins. Additionally, this fruit is rich in amino acids, specifically taurine. Taurine has antioxidants and flavonoids, both of which are beneficial to the body.
Health Benefits of Cactus Juice
Cactus juice has shown to help to prevent inflammation in the muscles, arteries, gastrointestinal tract and cardiovascular region.
Cactus juice has a laxative effect and has shown to effectively treat constipation. In addition to easing constipation, cactus juice can reduce inflammation in the urethra and bladder.
Cactus juice is a good source of photochemicals, which can help strengthen the body's immune system.
Additionally, the nopal cactus has high levels of betalins, which are antioxidants.
The American Heart Association has conducted research examining the benefits of cactus juice in reducing cholesterol levels.
Cactus juice has shown to be an effective remedy for non-insulin diabetes. Research shows that cactus juice can help decrease and stabilize blood glucose and insulin levels
Enjoy 1 to 2 tbsp of cactus juice up to three times a day to benefit from the numerous benefits provided by this fruit.
Nopales are spectacularly healthy type of cacti with a wide range of health benefits including its ability to aid in weight loss, prevent cancer, improve skin health, protect heart health, regulate and improve digestion, boost the immune system, optimize metabolic activity, build strong bones, cure insomnia, and reduce inflammation throughout the body.
Nutritional Value of Nopales
The wealth of health benefits that come from nopales are mainly attributable to its nutrition and vitamin content, which includes riboflavin, vitamin B6, copper, iron, fiber, vitamin-A, C, K, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and manganese. It is also an important source of certain organic compounds like phytochemicals and certain polysaccharides that also contribute to the health boosting power of nopales.
Health Benefits of Nopales
Digestion: Nopales are forms of cacti, so they are very fibrous and contain a great deal of dietary fiber. Dietary fiber is essential in the digestive process, because it adds bulk to bowel movements that make them easier to pass through the smooth muscles of the digestive tract.
Weight Loss: There are a number of components within nopales which can aid in weight loss. First, fiber can make the body feel full and inhibit the release of ghrelin, which is the hunger hormone, so overeating is reduced. Secondly, this plant is very low in saturated fat and cholesterol, but it is packed with metabolic potential, so the body works at a higher level without gaining weight.
Cancer Prevention: The variety of phytochemicals, flavonoid compounds, vitamin-C, and other antioxidants found in nopales make it extremely beneficial for the entire immune system, particularly when it comes to various cancers.
Metabolic Activity: One of the most important aspects of nopales in terms of health is its mineral and vitamin content. Nopales contain thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin-B6, all of which are vital components of cellular metabolism and normal, regulated enzyme function throughout the body.
Builds Strong Bones: The mineral content of this powerful cactus leaf includes a modest level of calcium, which is an essential part of building strong bones and repairing bones after being damaged.
Improve Sleep: This plant also contains magnesium,which is a useful mineral for inducing feelings of sleep for people suffering from insomnia, chronic anxiety or restlessness. It induces the release of serotonin in the body, which results in increased melatonin levels.
Inflammation: The juice that is taken out of the pickle pear leaves of nopales has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects on a variety of body parts, including those symptoms associated with arthritis, injury, joint pain, and muscle strain.
Skin Health: The phytochemical and antioxidant characteristics of nopales make them a good defensive mechanism against premature aging symptoms, like wrinkles and age spots.
Diabetes: The extracts from the leaves of prickly pear cactus can be powerful regulators of glucose levels within the body. For patients with type 2 diabetes, it can cause a reduced spike in glucose levels following eating, which makes the management of diabetes easier.
Nopal comes from the Nahuatl word nohpalli for the pads of the plant. Nopal is a common name in Mexican Spanish for Opuntia cacti (commonly referred to in English as prickly pear), as well as for its pads.
The Wiki article talks of how nopal pads can be eaten raw or cooked, used in marmalades, soups stews and salads, as well as being used for traditional medicine or as fodder for animals. Farmed nopales are most often of the species Opuntia ficus-indica or Opuntia joconostlealthough the pads of almost all Opuntia species are edible. The other part of the nopal cactus that is edible is the fruit called the tuna in Spanish, and the "prickly pear" in English.
Nopales are generally sold fresh in Mexico, cleaned of spines, and sliced to the customer's desire on the spot, they can also be found canned or bottled, and less often dried, especially for export. Cut into slices or diced into cubes, nopales have a light, slightly tart flavor, like green beans, and a crisp, mucilaginous (squishy) texture. In most recipes, the mucilaginous liquid they contain is sometimes included in the cooking. They are at their most tender and juicy in the spring.
Nopales are most commonly used in Mexican cuisine in dishes such as huevos con nopales (eggs with nopal), carne con nopales (meat with nopal), tacos de nopales, in salads with tomato, onion, and queso panela (panela cheese), or simply on their own as a side vegetable. Nopales have also grown to be an important ingredient in New Mexican cuisine and in Tejano culture (Texas).
Nopal cactus grows all over the world and it’s used as a great food in Mexico, South America, and many other areas of the world. And it has amazing health benefits such as: Its a powerful anti-inflammatory, a very good antioxidant, helps with weight loss, lowers cholesterol, has plant sterols to dissolves arterial plaques, lowers blood sugar, detoxes the liver, good immune booster, helps with gastric ulcers, lots of fiber, promotes the grow of probiotic bacteria, helps with hangovers, lowers blood sugar, lowers blood pressure and more.
Dr. Paul Haider - Master Herbalist
Nopal cactus crece en todo el mundo y es usado como una gran comida en México, América del Sur, y en muchas otras zonas del mundo. Y tiene increíbles beneficios para la salud tales como: es un potente antiinflamatorio, un muy buen antioxidante, ayuda con la pérdida de peso, reduce el colesterol, esteroles vegetales que disuelve las placas arteriales, baja el nivel de azúcar en la sangre, el hígado detoxes, buen refuerzo inmunológico, ayuda con las úlceras gástricas, mucha fibra, promueve el crecimiento de las bacterias probióticas, ayuda con la resaca, baja el nivel de azúcar en la sangre, disminuye la presión arterial y mucho más.
Of course, good gloves and tongs help. With those tools you can have a very steady and nutritious supply of a tasty wild edible, and not only in warm areas. Cactus grow from Alaska to Argentina, or chilly Canada to chilly Chili, and other parts of the world. People have been eating Nopalea/Opuntia for at least 9,000. It’s not too late to join them. Read more about 'Cactus Cuisine'!
We are getting a nice growth of edible cactus on our upper terraces.
The upper terraces get more sunshine in the winter, and they don't get as cold at night as the cold air drains downhill to the older cactus plants. These plants are just now starting to put out a good harvest for the first time since they were planted four years ago. Our overall cactus harvest of summer should be double any other year.
We are very happy when we're able to switch to the fresh leaves each spring.
These are a good look at the quality we demand for the Grade-A gourmet edible cactus. They must be blemish-free, as even and unbent as possible. The care given to them post-harvest is important also, to preserve as much of the natural quality as possible through what may be thousands of miles of travel. So each layer of grade-A edible cactus is packed with a layer of tissue paper between to reduce damage the tender plants might cause one another.
Here is how nicely the plants are now growing out. These cladodes (pads, leaves, nopal) will be fully mature and ready for 'Cinco de Mayo' celebrations as Grade C edible cactus, the grade we most recommend for home and chef use.
Here is a view of some of the rows of edible cactus, their new pads ready to harvest within weeks.
For this Cinco de Mayo, we’re skipping the carne asada and enchiladas and swapping them for a more traditional ingredient: cactus.
The nopal cactus, also known as “prickly pear,” is a plant native to the mountains of Mexico. It has been used as both a food and for its medicinal benefits by the native peoples of that region since ancient times. It has been widely valued for its nutrition and vitamin content, which includes riboflavin, vitamin B6, copper, iron, fiber, vitamin-A, C, K, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and manganese. It’s high content of dietary fiber makes it widely used to aid in digestion.
If your grocery store or farmers market doesn’t sell cactus, you can find it at most Latin grocery stores in the produce aisle, either whole or already prepped and chopped. (My local Whole Foods is selling bags of already chopped cactus for Cino de Mayo).