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Addy recently shared a piece from her Nopales plant with me. When I first met hers, a year ago, it was just this big but is now a proper cactus plant and she is able to remove and eat some of the pads. So it's going to take a while before I can give mine a taste test.

Any recipes anyone has would be appreciated. Just watched a TV chef prepare a sauce using the gel from a pad.

Nopalitos and Prickly Pear Cactus Traditional Food and Harvesting

Peeling opuntia fruit

Cooking pads

Cactus salad

Fried cactus

Scrubbing off the prickles and recipe ideas

Cooking pads on the BBQ!

Nopales with bacon and eggs for breakfast

Content and images courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Edible cactus is also known as nopales (no-PAH-les), nopalitos or cactus pads. This vegetable is popular in Mexico and other Central American countries, parts of Europe, the Middle East, India, North Africa and Australia. Its popularity is increasing in the United States where it can be found at Mexican grocery stores, specialty produce markets and farmer's markets.

Edible cactus is characterized by its fleshy oval leaves (typically called pads or paddles) of the nopal (prickly pear) cactus.

With a soft but crunchy texture that also becomes a bit sticky (not unlike okra) when cooked, edible cactus tastes similar to a slightly tart green bean, asparagus, or green pepper.

Cactus pads contain beta carotene, iron, some B vitamins, and are good sources of both vitamin C and calcium.

Availability, Selection, and Storage

Edible cactus is available year-round with a peak in the mid-spring and the best season from early spring through late fall. When buying edible cactus, choose small, firm, pale green cacti with no wrinkling. Be sure to pick cacti that are not limp or dry. Very small paddles may require more cleaning because their larger proportion of prickers and eyes.
Edible cactus can be refrigerated for more than a week if wrapped tightly in plastic.

Edible cactus is also sold as:

  • Canned — pickled or packed in water
  • Acitrones — candied nopales, packed in sugar syrup and available in cans or jars.


The edible cactus you buy should be de-spined though you will need to trim the "eyes" to remove any remaining prickers, and outside edges of the pads with a vegetable peeler. Trim off any dry or fibrous areas and rinse thoroughly to remove any stray prickers and sticky fluid.

Photo of cactusEdible cactus can be eaten raw or cooked. To cook, steam over boiling water for just a few minutes (if cooked too long they will lose their crunchy texture). Then slice and eat! Cactus can also be cut and sautèed in butter or oil for a few minutes.

Steamed cactus can be added to scrambled eggs and omelets, or diced fresh and added to tortillas. They can also be substituted for any cooked green in most dishes.

The pads can be served as a side dish or cooled and used in salads. They taste especially good with Mexican recipes that include tomatoes, hot peppers and fresh corn.

What is the difference between cactus leaves (edible cactus or nopales) and the prickly pear?

Photo of prickly pearAs part of the cactus plant, the prickly pear is a fruit that is 2 to 4 inches long and shaped like an avocado. Its skin is coarse and thick, not unlike an avocados and it ranges in color from yellow or orange to magenta or red. Tubercles with small prickly spines can be found on the prickly pear's skin. This fruit's flesh, which ranges in color also from yellow to dark red, is sweet and juicy with crunchy seeds throughout.

The prickly pear can be diced like pineapple and used as a topping on yogurt or cereal or blended into a smoothie.

To "pick" a pad or pear, jab the quarry with your fork, or grab it with tongs, to get a firm hold on it . . . cut it off at the joint . . . and drop the harvest into your bag.

Gardening Australia Factsheet

Edible Cacti Factsheet - Gardening Australia - ABC

[This is the print version of story]

Edible Cacti

Presenter: neville passmore [23/4/1999]

Cacti seem like an unlikely source of food. There is, however, a great deal of interest developing in the succulent, refreshing fruits of several types.

The Prickly Pear (Opuntia ficus-indica), also known as Cactus Pear or Tuna, was a highly invasive weed in Queensland early this century. Its spread was finally controlled by the introduction of a small moth, Cactoblastis cactorum, whose grubs feed on the plant's growing tips. The drama of its aggressive spread and the ultimate success of the biological control, upstaged its usefulness as a food source. Both the fruit and the pads are edible. But beware - the entire plant is heavily armed with spines and hair-like barbs.

Wear heavy leather gloves when harvesting the fruit. Long handled tongs are also useful. The spines can then be rubbed or brushed off. The skin is very sweet but you may prefer to play it safe and peel the fruit before eating. Wash the knife between fruits to prevent any fine barbs being transferred from one to the next. The flesh is sweet and refreshing. The seeds can be eaten whole. The young pads of Prickly Pear can be sliced and cooked as a vegetable.

Cereus or Column Cactus (Cereus sp) are regarded as having commercial potential in Australia. The fruits are called pitaya or pitahaya. They come in tantalising colours and don't have spines. Their flavour is superior to that of the Prickly Pear. This cactus is night-flowering, with each flower opening only for one night. They are pollinated by moths or early morning bees. The fruit needs netting to prevent bird damage.

The climbing cactus group, known as Hylocereus are capable of covering a pergola. They have aerial roots that can cling to a brick wall. They grow naturally in the shade of tropical forests, where they climb the trees. They dislike cold conditions and intense sun. Under the eaves of a warm wall is an ideal location. Their night flowers are large, fragrant and look similar to orchid cacti. The fruits of H. undatus are large and red with soft scales.

Propagating cacti is simple. Cut off a piece of stem, dry it in the sun or shade for a few days, then place in a pot of sand until roots have formed. The plant can then be potted into a very free draining mix or planted into a well-drained part of the garden.


My Nopales is growing well, putting out plenty of new paddles. Should be able to cut and eat a couple before too long.

The plant is very hardy - the pot became waterlogged during the last bout of heavy rains and is now coping just fine with a weekly water during the dry. It never looks any different, always glossy and healthy. Just love the look of the little tufts that turn into paddles. Very interesting to watch the plant grow.


The plant today. I've eaten quite a few paddles and given some away.


My plant has developed some buds. This is how they looked about a week ago...

...and today I noticed the first bud open. Nothing to write home about but still very interesting. A very simple flower which will hopefully lead to some fruit.

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Comment by Lissa on March 3, 2013 at 22:26

It was good for me to watch the videos again too. I'll have to give the salad one a go.

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on March 3, 2013 at 10:46

Thank you for reminding me about this Blog, Lissa - I had forgotten it. I'll be trying the Nopales when the Tromboncinos are finished.

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on May 27, 2012 at 15:06

Eating the pads - yes, but you know how I like to ramble! ;-)

Comment by Lissa on May 27, 2012 at 6:25

I can remember eating cactus (opuntia) fruit when I was a kid after Dad told us they were edible. Ended up covered in prickles of course, but remember it clearly as a good day.

This is all about eating the pads though - not so much the fruit. I had no idea until Addy told me that the pads were edible. Once I started doing some research I found quite a lot of information.

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on May 26, 2012 at 20:09

Fascinating! At the moment I'll stick with my Dragon Fruit which should start fruiting next season. However ... I have eaten Prickly Pear jam. The Botany Club used to have wild food parties (just the food, not the party) the Cribbs had just brought out their wild food books and Dr Cribb was the head of Botany at the time. Anyway ... PP jam is very tasty and very gelatinous - when it jells, boy does it stay jelled! You have to fight it to spread it on bread, the jam kinda rolls up after the knife! Weird but madly delicious. If you've got the space, the fruiting cacti are great value and not all that difficult to look after given good sun and drainage.

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