If you are a fan of Mexican cuisine, chances are that you have come across nopal cactus, which also goes by the name prickly pear cactus.
It is a popular ingredient in Mexican cuisine. Nopales have green flat pads that occasionally have spikes. They are best eaten when they are tender and young.
If you have never interacted with nopales, you may be wondering what they taste like. Worry not, this article will give you all the information you need. We will discuss the flavor, where to buy them, how to choose the best ones, culinary uses, and so much more.
Nopales pads flavor
I would describe the flavor of young nopales pads as bitter and tart with a citrus undertone. The flavor is very similar to that of asparagus, okra, or green beans.
Personally, I find the flavor bland since the pads are not exactly flavorful. The texture of nopales pads is similar to that of bell pepper, it has an amazing crunch. The flesh is normally soft and sticky.
Mature nopales pads are not pleasant to eat. They are unpleasantly tough and are simply not tasty.
I have discovered that the time of harvest can also significantly impact the flavor of nopales. Those harvested at cooler times of the day usually have a milder and more pleasant flavor compared to the ones that are harvested at hotter times of the day. The latter usually have increased acidity and are not as enjoyable.
Is the fruit edible?
Nopal cactus usually bears fruit called cactus pears or prickly pears. The fruits are edible. They are small in size and are shaped like avocados.
The flesh of the cactus pears is very sweet, similar to the watermelon. The fruit also contains a lot of seeds inside them. They are tiny and hard and should be discarded.
Culinary uses for nopales pads
Nopales pads have been consumed in Mexico for several centuries. The flavor of nopales varies depending on how it is cooked.
Here are a few culinary uses for nopales pads.
- Grill or bake them. Season with salt and pepper and brush with olive oil for an enhanced flavor.
- Fry them with tacos and eggs for a delicious snack.
- Boil with onions and garlic and then add them to your salads.
- Add to your casseroles. They play the same role as zucchini and complement the flavors of other ingredients.
- Add nopales pads to soups to make their consistency thicker.
- You can juice, jam, or pickle nopales.
- Use nopales pads as a substitute in dishes that call for a squirt of lemon juice.
Is nopales edible when raw?
The answer is yes, you can safely eat nopales raw. However, it is important to note that some people have had allergic reactions to them. If you eat nopales raw and notice rashes or swelling, you should consult a doctor immediately.
Most Mexicans usually enjoy eating nopales raw, especially when shredded. They call them Nopalitos and they can be eaten on their own or added to salads.
To eat nopales raw, you have to slice or peel off the outer layer of its skin. It will come off with unwanted spikes. You can thinly slice the remaining flesh.
Add some paprika and lemon juice to it before serving. If you want to go the extra mile, toss in some lettuce, cucumber, tomato, and cotija cheese for an amazing salad.
What does cactus water taste like?
You can derive cactus water from the prickly pear. Its flavor is similar to that of watermelon combined with kiwifruit.
Most people consider cactus water a healthy beverage. It contains several nutrients including antioxidants.
Where to buy nopales
The best place to buy nopales is Latin American grocery stores since they are sold fresh. If you do not mind canned nopales, you can buy them at any grocery store in the United States.
Nopales also grow wild throughout Latin America and Canada. However, I do not recommend picking them wild unless you are well-educated about the cacti species. You may end up picking a species that is not edible.
Choosing the best nopales
The only way you can enjoy nopales is if you pick the best ones, so I’m here to give you a few pointers.
Go for the young vibrant colored pads that have firm skin. The older pads usually have wrinkly skin and the flesh is usually tough, making them unsuitable for eating.
Nopales are not seasonal, they grow all year round. In my opinion, the ones that are produced in spring usually taste better.
How to store nopales
You can store fresh in your refrigerator. They will stay fresh for approximately ten days. After that, the pads will start to soften and they will eventually lose their amazing flavor.
The best way to store them in the refrigerator is to wrap them in a plastic bag then placing the bag in your vegetable crisper.
Interesting facts about nopales
- Nopales belong to the Opuntia ficus-indica cactus family. Pricky pears belong to the same family.
- Over 3 million hectares of land in Mexico are dedicated to growing nopales.
- Nopales have numerous health benefits, which explains why they quickly gained popularity in Europe and the United States.
- Several Mexican dishes have nopales as one of their ingredients. This includes tacos de nopales and huevos con nopales. Nopales are also combined with queso panela cheese in salads.
- The nopales pads contain antioxidants, minerals, phytochemicals, dietary fiber, and vitamins. They are suitable for a wide range of diets since they are low in calories.
I know the sound of eating cactus sounds wild if you are new to it. The thought that you can remove the thorns from the cactus and make a decent meal out of it is still a surprise to many.
If you are new to nopales, I urge you to try them out. They have a mild flavor and subtle hints of bitterness or sourness.
Try nopales today and let me know how you find them.