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Cactus – All You Need to Know | Instacart’s Guide to Groceries

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Last Updated: Jan 27, 2022

What is cactus?

Cactus is a desert plant, and while many people don’t think of it as edible, there are many types you can eat. Here are five of the most common ones:

  • Prickly pear cactus: Both the pads and fruit from this cactus are safe to eat. To prepare the pads, the spines must be removed. They can be eaten raw or cooked like any other vegetable. The prickly pears themselves must have the skin and spines removed to access the sweet fruit inside.
  • Cholla cactus: The flowers of these cacti are the most commonly eaten part. They must have their spines removed before consumption and are primarily used in salads.
  • Dragon fruit: Not many people think of this fruit as a cactus. These must be cut in half and have the innards scooped out since the skin can not be eaten. The fruit is usually eaten raw or in a smoothie. 
  • Saguaro cactus: Emerging from the tops of the tallest cacti in North America are fruits that are similar to prickly pear. Inside of the skin, the fruit is a bright red flesh full of tiny black seeds. The fruit can be eaten raw or soaked in hot water and made into syrup.
  • Barrel cactus: The entirety of this cactus can be eaten, from the flowers to the fruit and the pads. The seeds just need to be cooked before they can be eaten. They are commonly roasted.

Where did cactus originate from?

The majority of cacti are native to all of the Americas, from Canada all the way down to South America, although some species can be found throughout the world as well. Outside of the few varieties that live in the tundra in Canada, you can find most of them in Mexico and the American Southwest. Cacti are primarily found in the desert, where they can get all of the sun and heat that they need to thrive. 

What is the nutritional value of cactus?

Depending on the type of cactus you’re preparing, the nutritional values will differ. For example, the prickly pear pads are very low in calories, cholesterol, and saturated fat. They also contain high amounts of vitamins A, C, K, calcium, potassium, manganese, and magnesium. 

Dragon fruit, on the other hand, is the superfood of the cactus family. A 1c serving contains:

  • 136 calories
  • 7g of fiber
  • 18% of the daily value (DV) of magnesium
  • 9% of the DV of vitamin C
  • 4% of the DV of vitamin E

How is cactus grown?

Prickly pear is one of the cacti that are easiest to grow. They can be started from seeds, but that is a long and involved process compared to propagating the plants from cuttings.

Propagation is as simple as finding a prickly pear cactus and cutting a whole pad off of it. The pad must be left out of the sun for close to 2 weeks until a callus forms over the cut. Once the callus forms, plant the pad in a pot of cactus mix a couple of inches deep. Keep the soil damp for a week until the cactus begins to plump up, and new pads will start to grow.

After the plant is established, plant the cactus in its final spot, receiving full sun in well-drained soil.

When is cactus in season?

The harvesting of cacti and their fruits begins in July and runs until October in most areas. There are a few regions where the cactus harvest can stretch into December. Cactus that was frozen at harvest can appear in the store throughout the year.

What should I look for when buying cactus?

Depending on what type of cactus you are buying, there are a few different things to look out for. In general, the fruit should have firm skin, and you should not see any bruises or mold. 

Green cactus fruit always stays green, but the lighter in color they are, the riper they are. When the skin turns yellow, they are over-ripe. Red cactus fruit should be free of any green color and be completely red.

Be careful when handling cactus at the store since there is a chance that small spines may remain.

If you are looking to have your groceries delivered, you can easily shop for cactus via Instacart. After adding a product to your cart, use the “Instructions” option to notify your Instacart shopper about any preferences or specific directions on how to choose the best products. Shop for cactus.

How to store cactus

When bringing cactus home from the store, use a firm brush to scrub the cactus under running water to remove any chance of getting stabbed with a spine. Once the cactus is despined and dry, wrap it in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator for up to a week. 

How to tell if cactus is bad

When cactus goes bad, it is just like any other fresh produce. It will begin to develop bruises, become mushy, and eventually get moldy. If your cactus has any of these signs of being past its prime, it is time to dispose of it. 

What can I substitute for cactus?

The best substitutions for cactus fruits are watermelon and guava. If you need to substitute for the pads themselves, try canned versions if they’re available. If not, try okra. 

How to find cactus near me

Cactus is not a well-known food to most, but it is one that everyone should experiment with. Start with dragon fruit or prickly pear and then transition to cooking the pads themselves. When you are ready to give them a try, you can have fresh fruit delivered the same day with Instacart. 

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