A cactus is an intriguing succulent plant that grows mostly in hot, arid climates like those found in Mexico and the Southwestern United States. Succulents are plants that have meaty parts capable of collecting and storing water, a characteristic the enables them to survive in regions with scarce rainfall.
There are more than 1,700 species of cacti. Surprisingly, as many as 200 of these species are at least partially edible and humans have been eating them for more than 12,000 years.
But what kind of food are cacti? Is cactus a vegetable? Or is cactus a fruit?
Is Cactus a Vegetable?
The semi-round paddles, or nopales, of what is commonly called the Prickly Pear cactus are popularly consumed as vegetables, especially in Mexico and other Latin American countries.
Some examples of how this vegetable is consumed include:
- Nopalitos con huevos – a delicious dish featuring prepared Prickly Pear paddles with eggs, chorizo, jalapenos, tomatoes, and onion. Nopalitos con huevos can be eaten plain or loaded into a warm tortilla and smothered with a favorite cheese or sauce.
- Chop up some prepared paddles and mix them into a refreshing salad with orange wedges, honey, and a bit of mint.
- Tired of boring French fries? Cut prepared paddles into strips and bake them for a tasty, healthier alternative.
Interestingly, while the Prickly Pear paddles are vegetables, the red pears that grow on these cactus paddles are fruit. This is one of a handful of plants that are both vegetables and fruit. So, when pondering, Is cactus a vegetable? the answer is definitely yes, with the unique twist that it also produces fruit.
Read on to learn what other types of cacti are most commonly eaten.
What is a Vegetable?
The cactus is a vegetable because vegetables are defined as the portions of a plant that humans eat. The paddles of the Prickly Pear cactus are a vegetable because people and animals have been eating parts of various cactus plants for centuries and still enjoy them today.
Fruit VS Vegetable
So what is the difference between a fruit and a vegetable?
Fruits contain seeds and come from the flower of plants, whilst the rest of the plant is considered to be a vegetable. In cooking, vegetables are usually savoury, whilst fruits are sweeter in taste.
Fancy Growing Your Own Cactus?
Check out this awesome grow you own cactus kit!
Growing a prickly plant from a seed is easy and fun. This kit includes a terracotta pot, over 150 cactus seeds and a guide about the saguaro cactus!
Benefits of Eating Cactus
We all know that vegetables are an important foundation block of any healthy diet, and we’ve already answered the question, Is cactus a vegetable? It may be a stretch to call them a superfood, but some people hold them in high regard because they deliver a lot of the benefits that you’d expect from a nourishing plant-based diet.
Cacti are low in calories, fat, and carbohydrates. And they’re also a good source of fibre. Consequently, they can help you reduce your cholesterol and sugar intake, which is important for all of us but especially people with diabetes.
But that’s not all – cacti are also excellent sources of essential vitamins and minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, and vitamins A and C.
When you consider how easy they are to prepare and the number of ways that you can add them to your diet, you can’t go wrong with the right cactus.
What Species of Cacti are Edible?
Prickly Pear paddles are one of the only part of any cactus that you should eat as a vegetable.
There are other cacti that you can eat, too, but with most of these, you only eat the fruit. Eating the “meat” of most other cacti can result in diarrhea, nausea, and, in severe cases, paralysis.
The fruit of many cacti is delicious. The most common types you might enjoy are the fruit of the Barrel cactus, the Saguaro cactus, and the Cereus cactus, in addition to the delightful red pears of the Prickly Pear.
Is cactus a vegetable? Yes, indeed, and a very tasty one at that!
Cacti are found to some extent in various parts of the world but thrive mostly in Mexico and the Southwestern United States. They are succulents designed to survive in hot, arid regions.
Cacti have been part of the human diet for thousands of years because parts of these plants are both flavorful and nutritious. They are most popular in the diets of people living in Latin America, where they are used in a variety of dishes, drinks, and confections.
And why not? Cacti are healthful, delivering several essential vitamins and minerals while helping people manage their weight, sugar levels, and cholesterol levels.
The Prickly Pear cactus is special because it provides both fruit and vegetable. The flat paddles are a nutritious vegetable, while the pears that grow on the paddles (nopales) are a delicious fruit. Other types of cacti produce flowers and fruit that are edible but should otherwise not be eaten.