While not strictly vegetarians (not even loosely vegetarians, in fact), we’re always looking for ways to extend Meatless Mondays well into the week. Vegetarian tacos are usually a pretty easy way to do that, though for us, that generally means tofu or fish. In fact, cactus might not have occurred to if not for Jason Wyrick‘s entirely enticing dish in Vegan Tacos. We’re always looking for a reason to go to our favorite Mexican market, and the hunt for nopales is just the one we’ve been waiting for.
“Nopales are prickly pear cactus pads,” says Wyrick, a chef who used a vegan lifestyle to reverse his diabetes and change the way he ate and lived. “They take some care to work with properly, but when you do, they are amazing. They have just a little tang and a nice bright flavor. I usually find the fresh ones at a Mexican market. You can make these either in a pan or on the grill.”
Between this dish and the Wyrick’s many other variations on the vegan-taco theme, our Meatless Mondays (and Tuesdays, and Wednesdays…) are looking a lot more interesting.
Vegan Tacos Authentic and Inspired Recipes for Mexico’s Favorite Street Food by Jason Wyrick
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.
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.
Yes, there are hundreds of cactus plants in these images... mostly hidden by the tall winter grass that we use as a living mulch. The grass is almost three feet tall now. It shields the soft soil from the pounding rain. It holds the soil together and open.... it sucks up excess moisture.... after it seeds we cut it, and it forms a protective mulch over the soil, shading it from the sun and eventually rotting into the soil to add to the high humus levels that keep the biological engine of the soil steaming along.
Sí, hay cientos de plantas de nopal en estas imágenes... la mayoría ocultos por los altos pastos de invierno que utilizamos como una sala de mantillo. La hierba es de casi 1.5 metros de altura. Protege el suelo blando de las fuertes lluvias. Mantiene el suelo y abrir.... que absorbe el exceso de humedad.... después de que las semillas se corta, y forma un mantillo protector sobre el suelo, las sombras del sol y finalmente pudriéndose en el suelo para añadir a los altos niveles de humus que mantenga el motor biológico del suelo a lo largo de cocción.
The new cactus leaves are growing out nicely. This is the week we start shipping the new leaves that are Grade C in small boxes to individuals. Our commercial harvest for our distributor will begin in two weeks. We have to start slow, but by the middle of April (if we have no frost) we should be in high production of excellent edible cactus leaves for Cinco de Mayo.
Las nuevas hojas de cactus están creciendo bien. Esta es la semana comenzamos el envio las hojas nuevas que son de grado C en pequeñas cajas a particulares. Nuestra cosecha comercial para nuestro distribuidor comenzará en dos semanas. Tenemos que empezar a lento, pero a mediados de abril (si no tenemos heladas) deberíamos estar en alta producción de excelentes hojas de cactus comestibles para el Cinco de Mayo.
The new cactus leaves are growing out. I took some photos yesterday, showing some just starting to burst out, and some in various stages to fully mature for excellent quality Commercial Grade Cactus pads for the restaurant trade.
We will be starting the commercial harvest this spring in the middle of March. The first deliveries will go to the Bay Area in California. We expect to be in good production in time for Cinco de Mayo.
Cactus leaves just starting to push out from the cactus scaffold branches. They will be fully mature edible cactus in a month to two months, depending on the weather.
Young nopal leaves, almost ready for harvest as our extreme gourmet grade-A edible cactus... for gourmands.... the flower will be snapped off to allow more energy to go to producing leaves.
This is a good size for a Grade-A cactus leaf. These are the most premium.... for special company, your mother-in-law, boss, or the President of Mexico!
This is the size of a premium Commercial Grade-C cactus leaf.
These will be selling like hotcakes in two months for Cinco de Mayo
People who practice a healthy, natural lifestyle often promote prickly pear cactus as a superfood. They cite the antiviral, anti-inflammatory and anti-clotting properties of the plant. In Mexican folk medicine, the cactus pulp and juice are used to treat skin wounds, stomach swelling, digestive problems and urinary tract infections.
Medical Research and Scientific Studies
According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, preliminary studies indicate that prickly pear extract may decrease blood glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes. The fiber and pectin found within the cactus appears to lower blood sugar by decreasing sugar absorption in the stomach and intestines. The plant extract improves insulin sensitivity, and it also protects the liver from oxidation.
The Nutritional Value of Prickly Pear Cactus
While doctors of traditional medicine hesitate to call prickly pear cactus a superfood, they believe that it can supplement a healthy diet. The high-fiber cactus is rich in antioxidants and carotenoids. Practically the entire plant is edible and nutritious, from the flowers and fruits to the stems and leaves.
"The International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition" reports that prickly pear cactus is a good source of several important minerals. Calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus are among them. The prickly pear seed contains linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid with numerous health benefits. Read more about Prickly Pear Cactus as a Superfood