How to Eat Cactus: Opuntia And Prickly Pears

This desert dweller has long been sought as a fruit and vegetable.

| May/June 1984

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    Forage and eat cactus, including recipes for the edible pads. 
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In tales about the West, the cactus is sometimes portrayed as a water-bearing plant that saves thirsting cowpokes lost in the desert. But any hungry range rider worth his spurs would know that some types can provide right good eating, too, especially those known as Indian figs, nopales, prickly pears, or beaver tail cacti.



In fact, there are dozens of varieties of these hardy forageables. They're members of the genus Opuntia, which encompasses well over 200 species. These can be divided into two broad groups: the inedible—or at least basically unpalatable—cholla cacti (which have slender, rounded stems) and the edible prickly pears (distinguished by flat pads resembling beavers' tails).



Many people are surprised to learn that some kinds of prickly pear cactus can be found as far east in this country as Massachusetts. For the really good eating types, though, you have to go to the Southwest, where the spiny plants can be seen growing wild along highways and on the open range. In some areas, in fact, they've become so numerous that they're considered a pest weed by ranchers and farmers.

In Mexico, though, the cacti are raised commercially, and the fruit (called tuna) and the edible pads (nopales) are marketed. If you don't have access to wild cactus and can't grow it in a backyard patch, you may be able to find it canned in the Mexican foods section of your supermarket.





Forage and Eat Cactus Carefully

Although it's a great low-cost food, cactus is shunned by most folks simply because they're intimidated by the plant's spikes and bristles. This is understandable, since the spines (which are virtually absent in some species) and the tiny, bristly glochids (the real troublemakers) can inflict irritating wounds. But the fact is, gathering can be a safe and easy task if you use the proper equipment: a sack, a sharp knife, a long handled fork or tongs, and heavy gloves.



To "pick" a pad or pear, jab the quarry with your fork, or grab it with tongs, to get a firm hold on it . . . cut it off at the joint . . . and drop the harvest into your bag.



Figo Guy
5/23/2018 7:17:42 PM

How about the so-called Old Mexico Nopal Cactus (Spineless variety of Opuntia gomei)? The pads taste compare to that of Ficus-indica, is there any differences? Also the fruits. Any ideas?


Figo Guy
5/23/2018 7:01:00 PM

How about the so-called Old Mexico Nopal Cactus (Spineless variety of Opuntia gomei)? The pads taste compare to that of Ficus-indica, is there any differences? Also the fruits. Any ideas?


Figo Guy
5/23/2018 6:59:02 PM

How about the so-called Old Mexico Nopal Cactus (Spineless variety of Opuntia gomei)? The pads taste compare to that of Ficus-indica, is there any differences? Also the fruits. Any ideas?







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