Nopales: The Prickly Summer Treat That’s Great to Eat
Growing up Hispanic in West Texas, one of the many things summer brings with it is cacti. The prickly plant may not seem like a great sign of things to come. Honestly, it may sound horrible unless you're a javelina or a camel, which actually eat cactus. But did you know that humans have also been eating cactus for hundreds of years?
Cacti are one of the best foods out there because of how flexible it is. So many things can be done with it by cooks. I know most millennials will joke about how cactus juice will quench your thirst and give you visions like in Avatar: The Last Airbender, but it's actually an all-around food powerhouse.
Cactus, AKA nopales, have to be picked when new cactus pads are still maturing. Usually my ancestors whisper into my ear and tell me which ones are ready to be picked. During the time that the cactus pads are maturing, they'll also sprout bulbs on the older pads that are no longer good for eating. The bulbs will produce flowers that attract all kinds of pollinators.
In an interview with KFYO News, registered dietitian Jannin Macias with the Covenant Lifestyle Center informed us that "like most vegetables, nopales are low in calories and rich in polyphenols which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Nopales are also a source of fiber which is beneficial for anyone wanting to manage their weight, blood sugars and/or cholesterol levels. The pad, fruit and flower of the nopal plant is edible and can be boiled, grilled, sautéed or steamed."
The flowers of nopales are actually edible and can be cooked many different ways like fried zucchini flowers, or incorporated in cosmetic products, said Macias.
@mckgaston Opuntioideae #plantstuff #plantlet #cactus #nopal #opuntia #cactaceae ♬ original sound - mckgaston
The bulbs are also edible and known as prickly pears, cactus apples and tunas in Spanish. Tunas come in green, orange and red, which an El Paso fruit stand vendor informed me were the highest priced out of the three. Prickly pear seems to be the flavor that most beers use to gimmick up anything remotely associated with cactus and eating them. A prickly pear thrown in the fridge for a few hours after you've skinned it just makes my summer. Eat the seeds; don't be the guy trying to spit them all out. I'll also slice the tunas and add them to a lemon lime or grapefruit soda to enhance the summer vibes.
So when you see a cactus, don't be afraid -- be hungry. Clean off the spines and add it to your diet. Maybe even record your friends' reactions when they try it because nopales are a tasty experience.