Restaurant and hotel chefs around the world are increasingly using Nopales in their menus. These ingenious cacti are nutritious, tasty and easy to grow in dry climates, which is why they’ve been identified as a top 50 future food (read more here).
Also known as the prickly pear or cactus pear, Nopales are widely cultivated in Central and South America, Africa and the Middle East, and increasingly in Australia and Europe. The fruit, flower, oil and cladodes (flattened shoots rising from the stem of the plant) are rich sources of nutrients and especially common ingredients in Mexican cuisine.
Nopales are growing in popularity around the world because they are so versatile. The fruit has a similar taste to a slightly sour green bean, and once its thorns and spines have been removed, they can be eaten raw in salads, boiled, grilled or fried in stews and other hot dishes, preserved in brine, turned into jams, blended into soups and served as an accompaniament to other dishes. US website Fine Dining Lovers suggests various ways that chefs and home chefs can cook with Nopales here.
The genius ingredient can also be used to add tang to alcoholic cocktails, but also as a hangover cure, because of its high nutrient and water content. The fruit is full of antioxidants and has been found to reduce oxidative stress and keep blood sugar levels in check, while the oil and water are said to help boost skin health and sooth irritant skin conditions too. Some clinical studies suggest that Nopales can help with weight loss because of their low calorie and high fibre content, but such benefits are yet to be proven.
Perhaps most importantly, Nopales also help make the food supply more resilient, and as food security becomes a bigger concern, it’s predicted the fruit will be used more, because the cactus grows well in dry climates and its pads hold fresh water. Nopales also have potential for use as an alternative animal feed, and are being used to produce biogas23, a renewable energy source – this Mexican company, for example, is making biofuel from cactus plants.