Dragon fruits are native to warm and humid climates. They are widely grown in tropical and subtropical regions all over the world. This fruit has many names like pitaya and moonlight cactus. So what we all wonder is, ”is dragon fruit a cactus?”.
Dragon fruit comes from a climbing vine member of the cactus family. When talking of cactus, we do not mean the typical cactus that we all know. The typical cactus survives the scorching sun and thrives well in dry environments, but dragon fruit vines can’t.
When exposed to harsh sun and dry conditions, dragon fruits vines turn yellowish and may eventually die if there’s continued exposure to such extreme conditions. This article expounds further on whether a dragon fruit is a cactus. Keep reading to understand more.
What is a cactus fruit?
The cactus fruit, also referred to as prickly pear, cactus pears, cactus fig, Mexican tuna fruit, or Opuntia, is a delicious thorny fruit grown in Caribbean islands and the Rocky Mountains in the western united states. The fruit can thrive in hot and arid climates all over the world.
This fruit is grown from cactus seeds that come in lime green, deep purple, sunny yellow, and fiery orange colors. The cactus grows into shrub size, and upon flowering, the flowers and fruits take the same colors as seeds.
The cactus branches called ”Nopalito” are wide, flat, and can be eaten as vegetables. They are best served in salads and tacos. These branches have a slimy, crunchy texture, but it mostly depends on the preparation method used.
On top of these branches grows cactus fruits that are oval in shape. The fruits are edible, and you’ll find them selling in stores under the name ”tuna”. Both the fruit and these branches are fiber-rich and help stabilize the blood sugar.
Cactus fruits taste is sweet with watermelons juiciness and a cucumber’s crunchiness and can be eaten on their own or squeezed to make some refreshing juice, syrup, cocktails, candies, and jams. These fruits have a spiky exterior, and extra caution should be taken during harvesting.
What is cactus fruit good for?
Cactus fruit are a bit hard to harvest because of the prickled exteriors known as glochids. These glochids can be really painful when they stick to hands. But did you know that behind all those spines are compounds and nutrients beneficial to our bodies? Let’s explore what cactus fruits are good for.
The different varieties of cactus have different nutritional profiles. What they have in common are fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They are also rich in antioxidants like phenolic acid and flavonoids that protect our bodies from oxidative stress caused by free radicals that cause diseases.
Overweight persons are at risk of cancer, mental illnesses, and osteoarthritis. The fiber in cactus fruits helps in fat excretion and reduce the absorption of energy. The 3g fiber content in cactus fruit also reduces frequent hunger pangs, making you feel fuller for longer.
Skin and hair health
The polyunsaturated fats in cactus fruits play a good role in maintaining glowing skin and shiny hair. Vitamin K and E play the role of rejuvenating the skin and preventing wrinkles from forming. Eating cactus is actually one of the ways you can delay the aging of your skin.
Oil from cactus fruit helps nourish the scalp upon being applied to the hair. When mixed with some cucumber, coconut oil, and coconut milk, you will have a hair conditioner to protect your hair from getting dry in the summer heat.
Maintaining healthy liver
The liver is one crucial organ in the human body. It helps detoxify chemicals and metabolize drugs. Our lifestyle choices might damage the liver, but the cactus fruit has been found to have antioxidants that help in preventing inflammations that damage the liver. In fact, this fruit has been used in liver treatment from back in the olden days.
Maintaining blood sugars
Cactus fruits have been found to help reduce blood sugars and insulin levels in healthy persons and those with type 2 diabetes. This is all thanks to the fiber and the pectin present in the fruit.
Boosting immune system
The fruit of the cactus has vitamin C that helps in the growth of our bodies and the production of white blood cells. That way, the body toughens and fights any disease-causing organisms that might attack our bodies. Vitamin C also fastens wound healing, repairs the damaged body tissues, absorbs iron, and maintains the health of our bones and teeth.
Fiber helps lower bad cholesterol from our system that increases the risk of heart diseases. This fiber is also responsible for maintaining the body’s blood pressure. A spike in blood pressure could lead to potential heart problems. Also, the flavonoid in cactus fruits, together with the blood platelets, helps keep the heart healthy.
The betalain and potassium in cactus fruits are responsible for keeping the digestive system in good shape. Potassium aids in better food absorption, while betalains have anti-inflammatory benefits. The cactus juices also help in cleansing the colon, thus preventing any constipation and irregular bowel movements.
Blending a cactus fruit smoothie helps clear symptoms associated with hangovers like headache, dizziness, and dry mouth. So drinking a cup of cactus fruit smoothie before that night out might save you the hangover aftermath associated with alcohol intake.
Differences between dragon fruit and cactus fruit
Dragon fruits might closely be related to cactus fruit, but they differ in so many ways. Understanding their differences will clear any confusion on these two incredible fruits. So check out these differences in terms of:
Dragon fruits skin is famous for its scale-filled skin that also gave birth to their names. On the other hand, the cactus fruit is covered by spines that can hurt your hands if extra care is not observed.
The seeds of dragon fruit are really soft and can easily be eaten without any difficulties. However, that’s not the case with cactus fruit seeds. The seeds of cactus fruit tend to be hard and crunchy like those of passion fruit.
Cactus fruits have a sweet, bland taste like watermelons and a mild bubblegum flavor. On the other hand, Dragon fruits taste like a combination of kiwi fruit and unripe pear and a slight sweetness that is not so intense. You will also taste some hint of sourness in some dragon fruits.
Dragon fruits are large and oval-shaped, almost elliptical, while the cactus fruits are pear-shaped and just the same size as a pear.
Dragon fruits come in beautiful colors like red, pink, and yellow, while cactus fruits come in lime green, beet red, yellow, and orange colors.
Both kiwi and dragon fruits have this tiny black seeds that make the fruits’ texture crunchy to the bite. The dragon fruits’ pulp texture is soft and syrupy. On the other hand, a cactus fruit texture is smooth and somehow spongy.
Can you eat cactus fruit?
Some people believe that cactus fruits aren’t safe for consumption. I pity them, for they are really missing out on something so nutritious. So to clear those doubts, I want to answer whether or not you can eat the cactus fruit.
Well, cactus fruits are very edible and safe for consumption. Once you get those spiky messes from the fruit, you will just skin the fruit and enjoy its juices that have this bubblegum taste.
Apart from the taste, this fruit is packed with essential minerals, vitamins, and fiber necessary for maintaining a healthy immune system. Minerals like potassium, magnesium, and calcium are present in the fruit.
So if you are one of those who believe that cactus fruits are poisonous, then it’s time to change that mindset. Either way, there are different varieties of cactus fruits, and not all of them are edible. But with the prickly pears, it’s a different story.
How to eat cactus fruits
The Cactus fruit plant has three edible parts: the cactus pad, the flower petals, and the fruits. Here, we will cover how to eat the cactus fruit.
Getting the cactus
You can either buy or harvest your cactus fruit. If you are harvesting it yourself, do not forget to have gloves on and have a pair of tongs to twist the fruit from the stem. A mistake of harvesting them without gloves might lead to the fruits’ thorns getting into your skin.
Going for store-bought cactus fruits doesn’t guarantee on their ripeness and good taste. So to increase the chance of purchasing a good fruit, go for that with a bright purple color. That color is an indication that the fruit is ripe.
If you harvest your fruits directly from the plant, do not forget to remove the spines before going to the next step.
To skin your fruit, use a fork to keep it steady and remove the thick skin from the fruit with a knife. Discard the skin upon removal and be keen so you do not slice off the seeds.
As mentioned earlier, cactus fruit seeds are a little hard, and might make you not enjoy it as you would if it didn’t have those hard seeds. This step is necessary, especially if there will be a kid enjoying the fruit with you.
To remove them, you can run the fruit through a food mill and end up with some delicious juice. If you do not mind eating the fruit with seeds, then you can directly go into slicing it then serving them on skewers. That would call for spitting the seeds after every bite you take.
Cactus pear is also the cactus fruit. So the eating process is quite the same as the above. If you will be harvesting the fruit, you can burn the glochids on a flame. As they burn, there will be little pop sounds and sparks being produced. So the next step will be skinning and digging straight to enjoying the fruit.
The cactus pear has been widely used in making candies and jams and can also be incorporated into salads. You can also make some juice that can be used in flavoring cream cheese or mix it with some orange and lemon juice to make some salad sauce.
What does cactus fruit taste like?
Cactus fruits’ taste can differ from person to person. The fruit has a pineapple taste that closely resembles that of a raspberry or a strawberry. Its sweet pulp might also give the hint of some natural bubblegum and watermelon taste. The difference in taste is brought about by the age of the fruit. The first fruits tend to have a more robust flavor which keeps getting stronger as the fruit grows.
Frequently Asked Questions(FAQS)
Can you eat the inside of a cactus?
Not all cactus species are safe for human consumption. Some might cause vomiting and diarrhea and, to a further extent, paralysis. It is much better to consume the fruit itself as one benefits from it health-wise.
How do you tell that a cactus fruit is bad?
A bad cactus fruit emits a pungent smell. This is the very first warning sign that the fruit isn’t consumable. The color is another thing to note. A spoilt red fresh cactus fruit starts turning to pink and later yellow.
Are there side effects of eating a cactus fruit?
Some people might experience minor side effects after consuming this fruit. Some signs like diarrhea and bloating could be experienced in people allergic to cactus fruit. It is also advised consuming this fruit moderately as too much of it could block your lower intestines.
Are cactus fruits poisonous?
No! cactus fruit is safe to consume. The toxic types that should not be consumed include the San Pedro cactus, peyote, and Bolivian species.
I hope the question of whether a dragon fruit is a cactus or not has been answered. As you have read, the fruit belongs to the cactus family, but it is not necessarily a cactus. I also hope the next time you go shopping you won’t confuse the dragon and cactus fruit.