Prickly pear cactus
The fruit of the prickly pear cactus has a taste somewhere between pears and green bell peppers, and is often eaten raw. Ripe fruit can be pickled and fried. A raw, sliced fruit can be mixed with fruit of other plants with a slightly acidic flavor, including citrus fruits, pineapple and grapefruit. The cactus plant is used for making salsas, chiltepines, spaghetti sauce, flour tortillas and sweets.
Animals that eat Opuntia include the prickly pear island snail and Cyclura rock iguanas. The fruit are relished by many arid-land animals, chiefly birds, which thus help distribute the seeds. Opuntia pathogens include the sac fungus Colletotrichum coccodes and Sammons' Opuntia virus. The ant Crematogaster opuntiae and the spider Theridion opuntia are named because of their association with prickly pear cactus. The fruits of most prickly pears are edible and sold in stores under the name "tuna." Prickly pear branches (the pads) are also cooked and eaten as a vegetable. They, too, are sold in stores under the name "Nopalito." Because of the glochids, great care is required when harvesting or preparing prickly pear cactus. Both the fruits and the pads of the prickly pear cactus are rich in slowly absorbed soluble fibers that may help keep blood sugar stable. Prickly pear nectar is made with the juice and the pulp of the fruits and is available from our online store.You might not think of cactus as a vegetable, but some species of prickly pear are cultivated for food in many countries. The tender young pads, known as nopales, are de-spined and used raw in in salads or cooked in soups, tacos, and other dishes. Called nopalitos when they're diced, they have a mucilaginous texture reminiscent of okra. People say they taste a bit like green beans. The large fruits—called tuna in Latin countries—are eaten raw or used to make syrup, jam, jellied candy, and wine.
Uses of prickly pear are varied and many. Its primary use to humans is as food. The young pads are stripped of their spines, boiled and eaten as nopalitos; its use as a vegetable is widespread in Mexico and the Southwest, and has been one of the most important sources of food in this area since ancient times. The fruit (tuna) is also eaten in various ways and is quite nutritious. Both are good sources of dietary fiber. Have you ever eaten a Prickly Pear cactus? If so, hopefully you removed the spines first! Both the pad and the fruit are used as a food source. The spines are removed from the pads by “sanding” them in a grit medium or by burning them. The young stems or pads are often used as a vegetable or in a salad. In Mexican cuisine, the sliced or chopped pads, called nopalitos, can be found in egg dishes, salads, and in tacos.Pads are best eaten when they are young and tender and are said to taste a bit like green beans. The fruit flavor depends on the particular variety; it's been compared to strawberries, watermelons, honeydew melons, figs, bananas, or citrus. Prickly pear fruits can be eaten raw or prepared and are delicious at room temperature or chilled. They can be used for jams or preserveFruits should be harvested when they are ripe, as they won’t continue to ripen once picked. Keep in mind, these plants don’t give up to being eaten easily, so take care to avoid their defenses. Collecting should be done with thick gloves and tongs. Pads may or may not have spines, but both fruits and pads do have tiny, hair-like barbed spines called glochids that easily can stick you. You should remove all spines before you rinse your fruits or pads off. (Source:s, jellies, and candies. Whole, intact prickly pear cactus pads are called nopales in Spanish (Figure 8). Once the spines and tough skin are removed the pads are called nopalitos, and these can be eaten raw or cooked (Figure 9). Nopalitos are a staple ingredient in Latin American cuisine, consumed with cabbage and onions on tortillas or used as a condiment. Nopal cactus pads can be harvested during the spring months. Use tongs to collect new, young, tender pads 1 to 3 inches in length. Conveniently, many Hispanic grocery stores also provide whole nopales in the produce section. Follow the recipe below to prepare unique, healthy Latin American dishes. (Source: aces.nmsu.edu)