Yes, some cactus are edible and a very common ingredient in Mexican cuisin. And this is the case of nopales or nopalitos, the pads of the nopal cactus.
You can find them at restaurants, grocery stores, farmers’ markets and also in Mexican supermarkets, ready to use.
They are versatile.
These cactuses can be used to add to scrambled eggs and tacos, or as a side dish with onions and tomatoes. Nopales can be eaten boiled, grilled, sautéed, in soups, salads, blended into tortillas and so many more different ways.
They are also edible when raw. Once diced, they resemble a green pepper. You can turn them into juice, jams, or tea.
Plus they’re also packed full of amazing health benefits.
They are very nutritious, low-fat and rich in fibre. These edible cactuses have high Vitamin C levels, natural antioxidants, and a lot of other vitamins and minerals. What’s even better about these plants is that they have anti-inflammatory effects, and they boost the immune system.
When growing, the nopal plant not only has these edible green paddles, but it also grows edible sweet, small, rounded fruits called prickly pears, which in Mexico are known as tunas or pitayas.
As one of the most nutrient-packed fruits on earth, the tuna which is also low in cholesterol, sugars and fats, has received the title of being a “superfood.”
And is also a Mexican symbol. In Aztec mythology, Huitzilopochtli—the god of the sun, war and human sacrifice—tore out the heart of an unfaithful prince named Copilli and threw it into a lake. The first prickly pear cactus supposedly grew on an island in that lake, so it is said that this juicy red fruit symbolizing Copilli’s heart.
According to the legend, Huitzilopochtli told the Aztecs to build a city at the spot where they found the cactus, which would have an eagle sitting atop it eating a snake. Aztecs built their capital, Tenochtitlan, over whose ruins the Spanish conquistadors built Mexico City, and today, the prickly pear cactus with the eagle eating the snake is a national symbol that appears at the centre of Mexico’s green, white and red flag.
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