You might be surprised to learn that you can eat the fruit of many species of cactus. With some species you can eat other parts of the plant as well. You just have to learn which cactus fruits are edible and how to prepare them.
The most commonly harvested cactus fruits belong to the Opuntia family of which there are over 200 species. You’ll most likely be familiar with the prickly pear which is used widely in Mexico in many local dishes.
Let’s explore some of the best edible cacti and how to prepare them.
What Are The Best Cacti To Harvest And Eat?
As I mentioned, most cactus fruits are edible but while some are very tasty, others are best left alone. Here, we’re going to look at the most popular edible cacti, one by one.
1. Prickly Pear (Opuntia ficus-indica)
This is the most common edible cactus. You can eat both the fruit and the green pads of the plant.
Harvesting the edible portions of this cactus can be quite challenging because of the many thorns but there are ways you can do this safely. Here’s what you’ll need:
- A sturdy fork or a pair of tongs
- Thick gloves
- A sharp knife
- A bag or bowl to put the harvested pieces into
The most important thing to remember is to never touch any parts of the cactus with your bare hands. The thorns can cause a lot of pain if you happen to snag one.
Harvesting Tips For The Fruit And Pads
The ripe fruit of the prickly pear can be harvested by grabbing them with a pair of tongs and then gently twisting them off the plant. These are commonly used for jellies and syrups. Before using them you have to remove both the prickly skin and the millions of small hard seeds inside.
The leaves or pads of the prickly pear are used in many Mexican dishes and can be eaten raw, grilled or even roasted. To harvest these, hold the pad with a pair of tongs and cut off at the base with a sharp knife. Choose young, green pads as these will be the tastiest.
Once harvested, you need to remove the spines with a vegetable peeler. Remember, there are large spines around the edges of the pad but also smaller spines along the fleshier lengths. Be sure to keep your gloves on until you’re sure that you’ve removed all the spines.
2. Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea)
This is the tree-like cactus that is found in the desert. The blossoms are the state wildflower of Arizon. The bright red fruits (when ripe) are normally produced right at the top of the plant so they can be difficult to harvest.
The fruits will ripen on the cactus and eventually open up to expose the juicy pulp within. The best time to harvest them is when they have colored significantly but before they start to open.
3. Barrel Cactus
The Barrel cactus produces heaps of tiny pineapple-like fruit that are perfectly edible and have a slightly tart flavor. The fruit itself has no spines but the flowers at the end of the fruit do so you have to be careful to remove these without getting pricked.
The flowers and buds of the barrel cactus are also edible but they need to be handled carefully to avoid the spines.
4. Dragon Fruit (Hylocereus undatus)
The Dragon fruit also known as Pitaya is another form of cactus that is perfectly edible and delicious. You’ll actually find dragon fruit freely available at grocery stores.
The fruit has bright red skin and green scales. Once cut open, it reveals a white pulp with tiny black seeds. Dragon fruit is high in fiber and magnesium, so it does offer some nutritional value.
Due to its lack of spines, dragon fruit is really simple to eat. You just cut it open and then scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Alternatively, you can peel off the skin and slice the fruit up to use in a fruit salad or smoothie.
5. Peruvian Apple Cactus (Cereus repandus)
The Peruvian apple cactus produces small bright pink fruit with a white flesh and crunchy seeds inside. The fruit is similar to the dragon fruit but much smaller. It has no spines either and is completely smooth.
Like the dragon fruit, these fruits are easy to eat by just slicing them open and spooning out the flesh. Actually, the flesh tends to fall away from the skin quite easily once the fruit are cut in half.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What kind of cactus can you eat?
Nearly all cactus fruits can be eaten quite safely. The most common ones are Prickly Pear fruits, Dragon fruit, Saguaro fruit, certain parts of the Barrel cactus and Cereus Peruvian fruit.
Can you drink from a cactus?
No, most of the ‘liquid’ that you get from a cactus is unpalatable and some is even toxic.
What happens if you eat too much cactus?
Eating too much of anything can be bad for you. If you eat too much Prickly Pear for instance, it can give you diarrhea, nausea, bloating and a headache.
As you can see, most cactus fruit is perfectly fine to eat. Some, like the dragon fruit and peruvian apple, can simply be harvested, cut open and eaten. However, other cacti fruit, like the prickly pear, need to be harvested and handled carefully to avoid those nasty spines.
Have you tried harvesting and eating cacti and their fruit? Please share your stories with us in the comments below.