Cacti come from the Cactaceae family and are native to both North and South America. These spiny, hairy, succulent plants have many uses in native cultures, from religious and medicinal to culinary software. The stems and horizontal leaves of some cactus varieties are eaten, though other cactus species produce edible fruits which are picked for their sweet, sour or ornamental characteristics. There are lots of distinct kinds of cactus fruit, none of that is poisonous; however, some are so dirty or cluttered they’re not considered edible.
Red and yellow dragon fruit are two kinds of cactus fruits which come from the yellow and red pitaya vine cactus (Selenicereus megalanthus). This plant requires frost protection in climate zones below U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9b. These spiny, other-worldly looking fruits are cosmetic and unusual. The yellow-hued dragon fruit from the yellow pitaya has a bolder, sweet flavor and is generally the more expensive of both. Red dragon fruit from the red pitaya is referred to as bland in flavor. In many cases it is purchased for its ornamental qualities rather than for eating.
The fruit of the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) is known as “tuna” or “cactus apple” This cactus is native to Mexico and, as it is not a cold-hardy plant, thrives just in USDA climate zones 9 and 10. There are numerous distinct cultivars, all which produces fruits which vary from spineless, to spiny. The spines must be removed from spiny fruit varieties prior to consuming. The tuna is a heavily seeded fruit that is sweet enough to be eaten raw and is also used to make a sweet beverage.
Columnar Cactus Fruit
Thriving in USDA zone 9, the fruit of this columnar cactus (Cereus peruvianus) is medium in size, smooth and with no spines. It is occasionally known as Koubo. Fruits develop together with the long columns of this cactus in irregular clusters. Fruits may be yellow or red in colour with white, sweet smelling flesh that is peppered with small black seeds. The seeds of this fruit are edible, and the flavor of this fruit is described as both sweet and sour.
Other Cactus Fruit
Cactus fruits come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are small and round, while some are round and columnar. The flesh of cactus fruits also ranges in colour, from red to orange to yellow to green brown and purple. White-fleshed varieties are most common in Mexico and used in cooking software. A stringy, fibrous, sour and acidic variety known as xoconochtlis is a conventional cactus fruit at stews and side dishes. Cactus fruits with deeper hued flesh, like purple, red or orange, are sweeter and less sour to taste. Cactus fruits are generally ripe and ready for harvest, starting from the first spring and ending in the autumn months.
The fruit of this cactus is not the only edible part of the plant. The stems of this prickly pear cactus, particularly, are harvested for use as a crisp, green beanlike side dish. These stems are known as nopales and are often cut into sections and boiled. They are a standard food in Mexico and often served with onions, chilies, eggs or meat.