At UC Davis in the Sacramento area, there is a nopales growing program focused on the health benefits of prickly pear. Check out its website at the UC Small Farm Program. The site shows you how to grow your own nopales in containers or in your yard. Basically, prickly pear cactus is said to reduce inflammation. And UC Davis is growing and studying what’s in this cactus, also known as nopales.
Gourmet Mexican food is popular in Sacramento including the nutritional health benefits of nopal cactus (prickly pear–edible cactus) usually called nopales, and available at most Latino-style groceries and produce stores in Sacramento. There’s also nopales extracts for health benefits, such as nopalea. Also see, Nopalitos at MexGrocer.
This cactus is definitely worth eating, according to the site. The pads are “cladodes” or “nopales” when they’re whole, and “nopalitos” when they’re diced. They taste something like green beans. The fruits are called prickly pears, cactus pears, or “tunas.”
Whether you add sliced or cubed pads to omelettes or gently urge the fruit from its sticky skin and eat it fresh or cooked into jelly, this cactus has much to offer, according to the UC Davis website. Even the seeds can be eaten in soups or dried and ground into flour. You can bake with prickly cactus (nopales) flour made from the ground seeds. Health benefits include helping to reduce inflammation in your body.
Recipes and entertaining and informative tips on preparation can be found in Joyce L. Tate’s Cactus Cookbook, available from the Cactus and Succulent Society of America. Recipes range from appetizers, soups, and salads through entrees, vegetable dishes, and breads to desserts, beverages, and candies. In Central Mexico, the pads have grown as a traditional vegetable since before the Spanish arrived.
Prickly pear also is popular and grows in Australia
It’s not only from Mexico. Prickly pear grows also in Australia, Africa, and around the Mediterranean. The plant is used for food and medicine. What’s eaten for health benefits is the pad or stems called nopales or nopalitos. The fruit is called a pear. Scientists keep growing and studying the fruit for its value in nutrition.
Prickly pear contains vitamins C and B, beta carotene, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, amino acids, antioxidants, and various other nutrients that reverse free radical damage in cells as well as cut inflammation.
Native Americans at the fruit and also used it for folk medicine to reduce inflammation and help to increase stamina. It boosts the immune system. Besides eating it, the cactus has been used to treat burns, wounds, and cuts, using the sap from the pads. Also Native Americans and others used the pads as a folk remedy for type 2 diabetes. And the cactus itself, minus the needles, are used for more than 100 ailments from gastrointestinal disorders to skin problems.
It’s eaten to combat obesity, herpes outbreaks, the flu, and even HIV as part of folk medicine. Presently, it is being touted to reduce inflammation, which in turn may reduce pain in certain types of arthritis or fibromyalgia. You can buy the cactus pads in many supermarkets, Mexican-style groceries, ethnic produce stores, or online. If you grow your own, you need to burn off the softer spines.
Handle them with thick leather gloves and burn the spines off holding the cactus with metal tongs over a flame on your gas stove. Or buy canned nopalitos from the Mexican food aisle, sometimes called Hispanic foods in most supermarkets. The canned nopalitos are already prepared. To cook your freshly grown nopales, you trim off the base and edges and dice them. You can eat them raw or cooked.
The sap is similar to what you see when you boil okra in water. Steam or sautee the pads or add them to scrambled eggs. Use the cactus as you would any green vegetable, but be sure to remove those spines, including the soft spines that need to be burned off.
You can make marmalade or fruit drinks from the pads. Sweet varieties are red, orange, or purple. Green varieties aren’t sweet. So cook them with onions and use as a vegetable side dish or in a sandwich or tortilla.
Save the hard seeds and grind them into flour with a powerful dry grinder, such as a Vitamix Blender that comes with a dry grinder. You can use the flour to thicken soups or gravy. Traditional ways to serve sauteed nopales is with red roasted peppers, onions, and corn. You sautee everything together and serve topped with cilantro or chopped parsley. This makes a nutritious side dish emphasizing a variety of vegetables.
If you’re looking for a health-oriented drink, check out the Nopalea website. Betalains are a rare, powerful class of antioxidants in the nopal fruit that are said to offer benefits to people with certain types of arthritic pain. The extracts of this cactus is now available as a fruit drink.
Check out the research and see what any studies show. The topic of inflammation appeared in 2004 as a cover story in the Times magazine article as the silent killer. So any vegetable or fruit that reduces inflammation is something to look into. Read the article, The Secret Killer. The Times article links inflammation to numerous chronic diseases.
Where to buy nopal cactus or nopales in powdered form
You can buy nopal catus in various forms in most Sacramento ethnic Mexican food markets and in some supermarkets. Or you can order nopal powder or nopal nectar online. For more than 7,000 years the Nopal Cactus “vegetable variety” plant called Opuntia Ficus Indica, has been known to be one of the diet staples in the high altitude volcanic regions of Central Mexico, according to the NopalCanada site.
About three decades ago, the international scientific community started to study the medicinal propertries of this cacti. Recent studies of the Nopal “vegetable variety” type showed how Nopal could be recommended as a nutritional supplement for a variety of health benefits.
It has been said to help prevent type 2 diabetes, aid in weight loss for the obese, help gastro-intestinal disorders such as ulcers, reduce cholesterol levels or fats in the bloodstream, help with certain liver problems, strengthen the immune system, and help reduce high blood sugar/blood glucose levels.
Nopal powder, for example that’s dehydrated without added toxins contains 18 amino acids. The high fiber provides low calorie bulk, which is helpful for people trying to lose or manage their weight levels. Nopal also is high in calcium.
If you buy cactus powder online or in any stores, make sure the nopal is organic and the manufacturer is approved by the FDA. It’s also called prickly pear cactus. You want to buy this cactus juice or powder that is 100% nopal, high mountain grown, organic, and has no other additives or preservatives.
Prickly pear cactus has been found to have fat binding properties as a weapon in the war on weight gain
Last year this time in October 2009, scientists announced that they developed a new product that’s derived from the prickly pear which they claim can significantly aid weight loss. The 100 per cent organic product – named Proactol . It has been clinically tested in trials to bind with fat. As new as it is in the last few years, the prickly pear has been used for centuries by the Aztecs and other ancient peoples in folkloric medicine.
When taken after a meal it allows the body to expel around 30 per cent more fat – meaning the body absorbs almost a third less fat from food than it would otherwise. The prickly pear is a fruit mentioned in a Walt Disney film that now has been found to hold a possible weight loss answer for some. It’s an exotic “fruit” made famous by that classic Walt Disney film, The Jungle Book, that has been unveiled as a secret weapon in the fight against obesity.
Prickly pear has fat-binding properties
The prickly pear – beloved by Baloo the bear in Disney’s classic The Jungle Book – has been found to have fat binding properties – making it a powerful weapon in the war on weight gain. The “fruit” – actually a type of cactus – has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries by peoples such as the ancient Aztecs.
It differs from most other weight loss products on the market by being entirely organic and derived from a plant. Many weight loss supplements include synthetic chemical ingredients.
The team behind Proactol developed a way for people to obtain the health benefits of eating the prickly pear in an easy to swallow tablet form – rather than as a hard to handle cactus – which even Baloo in the movie famously had problems picking. The development has been hailed as a breakthrough by weight loss experts and by the hundreds of Proactol customers who have already managed to shed significant amounts of weight. For further information, see the Proactol site.
Dr Ikram Abidi, a family doctor with a special interest in nutrition, said: “We all know that being obese or over weight significantly enhances one’s risks of developing heart disease, diabetes and other ailments, according to a news release.
“Proactol does its role effectively as is shown by the trials, studies and numerous testimonials. For a health care practitioner, two concerns are of utmost importance while choosing any drug or supplement for a person. First, its efficacy – how effectively and quickly it works and is it backed by credible and documented clinical trials and studies? The second concern is of safety, is it free of significant side effects and does it offer better person’s compliance over the long term use, if needed?
“Proactol offers both – it is scientifically proven and tested to bring maximum results and has high safety profile, as has been shown in several clinical studies. Right from its natural, organic composition to its novel mode of action of binding with fat efficiently, Proactol comes with innovative fitness and weight loss benefits”
The product’s site includes dozens of testimonials from happy dieters. But the company behind the product is quick to point out that Proactol is not a miracle cure for obesity and is most effective as part of a healthy lifestyle.
The company’s October 15, 2009 press release reports that student Lauren Cobb, from Burlington, North Carolina, has managed to lose 25 pounds in under four months by taking Proactol as part of a healthy diet.
After gaining weight at college, Lauren tried everything to shift those excess pounds. Yet after jumping from one diet to the next, exercising more regularly and eating healthier, she was shocked to discover that she had lost barely any weight.
That was when Lauren decided to give Proactol a try. “I had tried every diet there was, but nothing worked for me. I one day came across a Proactol ad and decided to check into it. I figured I had nothing else to lose, so I ordered some.”
Incorporating Proactol as part of her healthy weight loss management program, Lauren soon began to notice a difference in her energy levels and fitness. Dropping a couple of pounds every week, Lauren’s stomach, hips and waist began to get firmer, smoother and more toned, and in no time at all she had lost 25 pounds.
“Not only was the weight dropping off, but I felt better about myself and was more energized.” To Lauren’s relief her hunger pains were gone too, helping her to say no to sugary foods and keep losing weight with confidence. No longer did she feel tempted to snack as she worked, but instead was able to stay in complete control and focus on her University work. “I am a much happier and healthier person now thanks to Proactol. I would recommend it to everyone.”
In the 1967 Disney movie Baloo the bear sang about the prickly pear cactus in the classic song The Bare Necessities. In the song Baloo, the bear loved by generations of children and voiced by actor Phil Harriss, tells “man cub” Mowgli how a life of leisure can be achieved by living off the land – if you know the tricks.
According to the Proactol company’s press release, Baloo sings: “Now when you pick a pawpaw, or a prickly pear, and you prick a raw paw, next time beware. Don’t pick the prickly pear by the paw. When you pick a pear, try to use the claw. But you don’t need to use the claw. When you pick a pear of the big pawpaw, have I given you a clue?
The bare necessities of life will come to you, They’ll come to you!”
Proactol product manager Katie Downing-Howitt said: “We aren’t claiming Proactol is a miracle cure for obesity but it is clinically proven to bind with fat and, as part of a balanced healthy lifestyle, does assist weight loss.”
She added: “It’s ironic that Disney’s animators gave prickly pear munching Baloo a rather cuddly figure. Perhaps if they knew what we know now about the prickly pear he would have been much skinnier.” For further information, view the Proactol site. Also see, UC Small Farm Program.
Goat Cheese ice cream with a side of nopales?
But a more exotic treat besides a dish of prickly pear cactus (nopales) is goat cheese ice cream gaining more popularity here in Sacramento. One way to make your own is to buy a container of goat cheese and puree it with goat milk, then mix it with regular vanilla ice cream or nonfat frozen yogurt.
Or follow the goat cheese ice cream recipes online to make it from scratch. You can substitute other sweeteners for those mentioned in the recipe. See the websites, “Goat Cheese Ice Cream Recipe,” and the Kitchen Confit recipe at, “Goat Cheese Ice Cream.” There’s also a recipe at, “Goat Cheese Ice Cream,” from the Nell’s Restaurant site.
Goat cheese ice cream also is popular in the White House. Last month Presdient Obama and wife, Michelle, ate an exotic Mexican meal from famous guest chef Bayless. The menu consisted of a salad of jicama with oranges, grapefruit and pineapple citrus vinaigrette, an herb green ceviche, Oregon Wagyu beef in Oaxacan black mole (one of Bayless’ signature moles) and several desserts, including goat cheese ice cream. See the website, Rick Bayless Twitter Binge: After State Dinner, White House Guest Chef.
The décor featuring chocolate flowers inside the butterfly-adorned tent for the May 2010 White House state dinner honored the Mexican President Calderón and his birthplace in the state of Michoacán.
Themes focused on Michoacán’s famous monarch butterfly that makes its annual migration from Canada every spring. That explained the Earth colors decorating tables in natural shades of oranges and greens, with bouquets of marzipan flowers to resemble somewhat from a distance, the butterfly’s colors. Roses also decorated the tables representing the national flower of America next to dahlias, the national flower of Mexico.
Two years ago, President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama welcomed Mexican President Felipe Calderón and his wife, Margarita Zavala, and 200 other guests to the White House for their second state dinner. You can bet nobody served cheese and bean burritos, tacos, white rice, or fajitas at the state dinner. The prickly pear cactus also appeared as a centerpiece on the tables.
The East Room’s menu of gourmet Mexican food by guest chef Rick Bayless smacked of royal treatment of the highest high quality. After dinner, pop superstar Beyoncé entertained an additional 111 invited guests.
Guests included well known actresses, athletes, celebrities, and Mexican billionaire who happens also to be the world’s richest man, Carlos Slim. So how does this relate to Sacramento? Exotic Mexican food, or rather high-quality Mexican food known for its health value is becoming popular in Sacramento, and one of the most emphasized foods is the prickly pear, the nopales, edible cactus.