Cactus for Tortoises

Prickly Pears for humans

Opuntias edible by humans

Prickly pear cactus has been a staple of the Mexican and Central American diet for thousands of years. In parts of the U.S. it has been gaining popularity as an exotic, gourmet and healthy addition to one's diet. The prickly pear plant has two different edible sections: the pad of the cactus (nopal), which can be treated like a vegetable, and the pear (tuna), which can be treated like a fruit.

Which ones to choose, how to prepare them

Harvesting: The best thing to do is spray fruits and pads with water to reduce the amount of glochids. (These are the small pads of tiny spines, which look fluffy and innocent until you get them in your fingers!  A few varieties of opuntia have no spines or glochids - these are the ones which are often out of stock :-).

Pick the fruit  with heavy leather gloves then wash them again and or burn what spines there might still remain off — a butane torch works well, a candle flame, or a deftly held propane torch. You then peel them for the soft red fruit flesh inside. It can be eaten raw or cooked and has a raspberry like flavour. Just be sure to take the seeds out. They are very hard and can break your teeth.

The fruit can be used to make a salad dressing.

The pads (cladodes) can be treated in a similar way. Small, young pads harvested in early spring are thought to be the most succulent, delicate in flavour, and have the fewest spines. The thicker a pad, the older it is. Older pads tend to be stringy and their sap will be thicker, which some people find unpleasant. After de-spining, they can be eaten raw or cooked.

They can be either boiled or grilled, as well as mixed with other ingredients to make unique, satisfying and healthy dishes.

The cooked pads have a flavour comparable to a mix of kiwi fruit and green beans . They also have a texture reminiscent of okra, which some people find unpleasant, and others find enticing. This quality is exaggerated if the nopales are overcooked.

Here are some recipes, though they are as common on the internet as spines on a cactus.

Grilled Cactus Pads
One pound cactus pads
Olive oil

Scrub cactus pads well, remove any spines. Cut around the spiny nodules and remove them, completely. Grill
the leaves over charcoal for 10 to 12 minutes per side. 
Thicker pads take longer. Brush pads with oil occasionally while grilling. Serve hot.


    One to two quarts or so of cactus fruit  (1.5 pounds) 
3 cups sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice**
6 ounces liquid fruit pectin    Boiling water

Place fruit in a large saucepan or kettle. Cover with boiling water, allow to stand for 2-3 minutes, and pour off water.
Peel fruit, cut into pieces, and place in a medium-sized  saucepan. Cover fruit with water and boil at high heat for 5 minutes.
Pour boiled mixture through cheesecloth. Drain as  much juice as possible. Discard seeds. Measure juice. Combine cups of cactus juice, sugar , and lemon juice in  large saucepan. Bring mixture to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to medium-high, add liquid pectin, and cook mixturefor 8-12 minutes, or until the mixture begins to thicken. Skim off any foam that may have formed. Pour mixture into hot, sterilized, canning jars and seal as usual.  Process jars immersed in a Boiling Water Bath for five minutes to seal the lids.

Cactus Monterey

1  pound cactus pieces
1 small tomato
1/4 small white onion
1 jalapeno pepper
1/4 bunch cilantro
1/4 cup shredded monterey jack cheese (or of choice)
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
4 tablespoons avocado or low heat olive oil

Steam the cactus until softened. Drain the cactus. Lightly fry all the other ingredients except for the 
Monterrey Cheese. Combine fried ingredients with the cactus and allow to simmer for 15 minutes. Top
with cheese before serving.

More info on eating prickly pear here