We have all learned the hard way not to touch a cactus. Whether it was a lesson you picked up at a young age, a bad experience in the cactus section of Home Depot, or having a cactus lodged into your ankle during a hike, cacti all have the reputation of being untouchable.
However, what takes most people by surprise is that these spiny and plants produce some of the most exotic fruits known to North America. In this guide, we will answer your questions about why cactus fruit is safe to eat and recommend some popular cactus fruits to try.
Is Cactus Fruit Edible?
The short answer is yes. While there are always exceptions, the fruits from cactus plants are not poisonous and safe for consumption. If anything, it is not always a matter of if the fruits are safe to eat, but rather if you want to eat them. Some cacti species taste incredibly sour or bitter.
For gardeners with little experience, harvesting cactus fruits can only be unsafe if not done correctly.
Make sure you stay clear of the sharp cactus spines. Otherwise, the only dangers to consuming cactus fruit are the same as the risks of eating any kind of fresh produce: the infinitesimal risk of pests and bacteria, as furthered by the Center for Disease Control. Luckily, this can be avoided by washing fruit before eating and sourcing your food from a trusted source.
Eating cactus fruit is no more dangerous than eating a banana or strawberry, with both being virtually harmless. In fact, these fruits contain plenty of health benefits, which we will touch on later.
Which Species of Cactus Fruits Are Edible?
Although there are many varieties to choose from, not all cacti bear fruit. Here are some of the most common cactus fruits and the species of cacti you can find them on.
At first, The Dragon Fruit was only available in exotic travel destinations or speciality grocery stores. Now, with the rise in popularity, Dragon Fruit can be found in supermarkets all across the world.
Known for its picturesque pink exterior, white flesh, and tiny black seeds, the Dragon Fruit tastes like a sweet hybrid of pear and watermelon. They grow from the Selenicereus, also known as the “Moonlight Cactus”.
Along with the sweet taste of Dragon Fruit, you can benefit from this fruit’s unique health benefits. Just to name a few, these superfruits are packed with fiber, antioxidants, vitamin C, and healthy bacteria for your digestive system. Try one of these Dragon Fruits at your local supermarket immediately!
Prickly Pear Fruit
The Prickly Pear is arguably one of the most popular types of cacti, which grows in the desert as well as an indoor potted houseplant. When conditions are just right, the Prickly Pear cactus grows a sweet fruit that can be eaten raw as soon as it is picked.
As the name implies, these fruits are pear-shaped, growing in shades of green, red, and orange as they ripen. The nutrients in Prickly Pear include antioxidants, electrolytes, vitamin B & C, and fiber. Some scientists even believe Prickly Pear fruits can treat symptoms of common illnesses. Most notably, some researchers have tested if these fruits can even alleviate hangovers from alcohol, although the results have not been proven yet.
Barrel Cactus Fruit
A Barrel Cactus is an overarching name for several cacti, all in a round cylindrical shape. While several barrel cacti can grow fruit, the most popular are the tiny yellow-green Barrel Cactus fruits.
These fruits slightly resemble miniature pineapples, although the taste is far different. Some say that the Barrel Cactus fruit is tart and citrus-like, tasting like guava. If you live in the Southwestern United States, you may be able to find these fruits while foraging out in the desert if you are lucky!
Traditionally harvested by Native Americans, the value of Saguaro fruit has been known for centuries. The Saguaro cactus grows in the Southwestern United States and Mexico and is the largest cactus in the United States!
If you’re lucky enough to find these fruits in the wild, you will spot them as tiny red fruits growing on the very top of the Saguaro cactus.
This fruit is ridiculously healthy, rich in both Vitamin C and Vitamin B12. As for the taste, Saguaros taste similar to strawberries. There is a reason why Saguaro Fruits are manufactured into wine and jam every single year!
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Benefits of Eating Cactus Fruit
Now you can see why cactus fruits live up to the hype! Below we discuss the main benefits of eating cactus fruit:
- High in antioxidants and electrolytes
- Great source of Vitamins B12 and C
- Promote digestive health
- Used for preparing food, wine, and sweets
- Cactus is a great source of fiber
Conclusion: Is Cactus Fruit Edible?
As a recap, cactus fruits are not only safe to consume but are very tasty and highly nutritious! If you ever come across the opportunity to try a fresh prickly pear cactus or a saguaro fruit wine, do not hesitate to do so. There is no reason to avoid such a tasty fruit!
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