Cactus is a hardy desert plant that can withstand extremely high temperatures and low water conditions.
‘Cacti’, which is the plural form of ‘cactus’, come in different shapes and sizes, though are generally characterized as having green, fleshy bodies protected by sharp spines.
But can you classify a cactus as a vegetable, or is it something else?
Is A Cactus A Vegetable?
A cactus can be identified as both a vegetable and a fruit. The fleshy green pads on a prickly pear cactus are what characterize it as being a vegetable, while the prickly pear that’s often found growing on top of the green pads is a fruit.
So, depending on which part of a prickly pear cactus you eat, you could be eating a vegetable or a fruit.
When it comes to making classifications many people feel confused regarding cacti and whether they belong in the category of a fruit or a vegetable.
In this day and age, people are becoming far more cautious about what they eat.
The cactus plant is interesting as it is not just edible but is also packed with nutrients that can keep you healthy.
Here is a quick guide to help you understand all you need to know about cacti.
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Is A Cactus A Fruit Or A Vegetable?
As already mentioned, cacti are fascinating plants as they are recognized to be both fruits and vegetables.
The green pads, which are called ‘napolito’, are what makes this plant a vegetable, while the prickly pear, also known as ‘tuna’, grows on the surface of the pads and is labeled the fruit of the plant.
It is also interesting to note that while the vegetable part of the cactus can be eaten all year round, the prickly pear fruit can be eaten only when it appears in the summer season.
What Does A Cactus Smell Like?
If you’re talking about cactus flowers, they usually smell wonderful, just as most other flowers do.
As far as the main body of a cactus, it can be described as similar to the smell of a vegetable.
The cactus trunk tends to smell stronger when it is plush and fully hydrated during the springtime or after watering.
When the trunk of a cactus is dry and not in a period of growth, it doesn’t really smell of anything.
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What Does Cactus Taste Like?
Considering once again the prickly pear cactus; when the pad or vegetable part of this plant is cooked, it has a soft and crunchy sort of texture similar to a tart green pepper.
How To Eat Cactus
As established previously, edible cacti are considered to be both vegetables and fruits.
They can be consumed in raw as well as cooked forms.
Here are some ways of eating a cactus plant.
Eating Raw Cactus
Cacti can be eaten raw in various forms such as fresh salads where the cactus is washed thoroughly and then cut strategically.
To make it safe to eat, it’s recommended to remove the sharp spines of the cactus plant so that they don’t stick you.
Many also like to remove the tough skin of the cactus.
The cactus prickly pear fruit can be eaten whole only in the summer season.
Eating Cooked Cactus
There are many ways to prepare cactus that include roasting, sautéing, baking, and even shallow frying.
Many cultures have their own ways of preparing cacti, for example, Mexicans often cook it with spices to give it an extra kick.
Cacti are increasingly available in the market in various forms ranging from raw to canned and even packed in a container holding sugar syrup.
Cactus Flowers Are Edible Too
Cacti and their fruits, such as the prickly pear, are edible and can be used to make many types of drinks.
But many cactus flowers are edible too.
In fact, Native Americans used to boil young, colorful barrel cactus flowers for the purpose of eating and drinking.
The Nutritional Value of Cacti
Cacti have been eaten for thousands of years by people such as Latin Americans, who believed that this desert plant is good for your health along with tasting pretty good too.
Modern research has demonstrated that there are many benefits to consuming cacti.
Cacti have been found to be high in nutrients such as Vitamin B, C, Calcium, and iron.
Cacti are high in fiber which means that they can aid in your digestive processes.
They contain Beta Carotenoids and antioxidants which are a fresh addition to your diet.
Are There Poisonous Cacti
When it comes to eating the cactus plant, many people wonder if there are any varieties that may be poisonous to consume.
Research has proven that though there are many different kinds of cacti around, all of the cacti fruit are considered non-toxic, which means that you can consume them relatively safely.
With that being said, many non-natives who try out cacti fruit for the first time, or many people who consume too much of a cactus plant, might have to contend with some unexpected bodily conditions.
The ill-effects may range from diarrhea, vomiting, bloating, or even painful headaches.
Moreover, the spines of a cactus though aren’t poisonous, they generally have to be removed so they don’t puncture the skin and cause infections.
The cactus plant is one of the few plants which are both a vegetable and a fruit.
The fleshy green pads are what characterize it as a vegetable, while the prickly pear that grows on top of the green is a fruit.
While the green pads can be eaten perennially, the fruit of the cactus plant can only be eaten when the season is right.
Edible cactus plants make excellent food as they are full of many essential nutrients which can benefit your health.
Moreover, the cactus plant can be delicious to eat in all its various forms ranging from raw to cooked versions.