Day 326 : Prickly Pear Cactus Salad

Cactus, its very mention summons ouch to the brain. And it also spells F.O. to evil spirits for the plant’s purported power to banish paranormal mafia. Other than keeping cacti as hardy houseplants who are supposedly immune to death (I said ‘supposedly’ because I managed to kill quite a few despite their reputation for thriving with little care), the succulents never made it to our dinner tables.

But we do consume aloe vera don’t we? Yes, but aloe vera is not actually a cactus. It is a succulent plant like echeveria, agave. yucca and a whole lot of other fleshy arid species but the category of cactus has specific identification traits such as having spines (NOT thorns), pressence of areoles, and complex flowering structures. So technically, Singaporeans never tasted cactus. Until now…

Fresh Prickly Pear Cactus, a.k.a. nopal cactus, on sale at NTUC City Square Mall. Oh so exotic!

I was out playing Aunty Lucy during lunchtime today and came across these huge green oval paddles in the fruits and vegetables section. I thought the aliens have finally landed.

Upon closer examination, I was amused to find that they were actually cactus pads! Is internal acupuncture an upcoming health fad? Should I be swallowing a porcupine next? Or sea urchin perhaps?

Health Benefits of Prickly Pear Cactus

Apparenty. treating Prickly Pear Cactus as a health aid isn’t wrong. Because I was going to eat it, I did extensive research on the web and found many sites hailing it as a food-cum-medicine super plant. The Mexicans have been using it for centuries as food and to treat a host of ailments from superficial to diabolical. Recent studies have further confirmed the plant’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels as well as bust bad cholesterol, making it invaluable in the complementary treatment of diabetes and high cholesterol.

Okay, I have to qualify that the health benefits I dug up do not constitute medical advice. One study I read that examined the effects of Prickly Pear Cactus on diabetic patients only had 10 subjects. That’s hardly a convincing study at all. But other studies, such as one published in the Journal of American Medical Association concluded that phytonutrients in the cactus has the ability to block inflammatory agents in the body that causes swellings and even hangover!

How Does it Taste?

All the health benefits of the cactus should convince Popeye to ditch spinach. But wait. Does it taste good? Personally, I find it rather lacking in flavour except for a mild lemony tinge. The flesh is quite slimy like that of okra. And hardened fibres resembling fish bones are found at the narrow part near where the cactus ear had been removed from the main plant so that posed an eating hazard hassle.

So would I eat it again? Yeah I would. Bodybuilding.com claimed that bodybuilders and athletes are including the cactus in their diet to speed post-workout recovery and reduce pain. The cactus has anti-inflammatory properties remember? But the green paddles don’t come cheap considering the yield in edible flesh after removing the tough outer skin.

After the creation of the Fish n Prick Salad (canned tuna with Prickly Pear Cactus and assorted garden harvests), I think I’ll try cooking it with chicken in a soup! Bon appet-prick!

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