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Nopales are the flat pads or paddles of the prickly pear cactus. They are treated like a vegetable in cooking.



Nopales are light green, fleshy, and ovular. They are typically covered in spines or thorns, though some "spineless" varieties are cultivated.[1] With a soft but crunchy texture that also becomes a bit sticky (not unlike okra) when cooked,[2] edible cactus tastes similar to a slightly tart green bean, asparagus, or green pepper.

Nopales have a high water content[1] and contain beta carotene, iron, some B vitamins, and are good sources of both vitamin C and calcium.



Nopales are available year-round where they grow with a peak in the mid-spring and the best season from early spring through late fall.

Selection and storage


Where they are native, such as Mexico and the US southwest, nopales can be purchased fresh. Popularity is increasing in the United States, where it can be found at Mexican grocery stores, specialty produce markets, and farmer’s markets. When purchasing fresh, choose small, firm, pale green pads with no wrinkling; younger pads are likely to be more tender.[1] Be sure to avoid limp or dry pads.[3] Very small pads may require more cleaning because their larger proportion of prickers and eyes. Refrigerate for about a week, wrapped tightly in plastic.

Nopales can also be found canned[2] or candied (acitrones), which extends the range of availability.



In some places, you can buy de-spined fresh nopales. However, if not, you will need to do so yourself. Use a sharp knife to scrape each flat side of the nopale, moving from the narrow end to the broad end, until you have scraped off all of the "eyes".[1][3] Then, use a peeler or a knife to pare away the outside edges. Finally, rinse off any sticky fluid, debris, or excess spines. While preparing the nopales, it's a good idea to wear thick gloves or use tongs.[3]

Sliced nopale

Nopales are popular in Mexico and other Central American countries, parts of Europe, the Middle East, India, North Africa and Australia. It can be eaten raw or cooked.[3] To cook, steam over boiling water for just a few minutes (if cooked too long they will lose their crunchy texture).[3] Alternatively, cut and sauté in butter or oil for a few minutes. It can be added to scrambled eggs and omelets, or diced fresh and added to tortillas. It can also be substituted for any cooked green in most dishes. The pads can be served as a side dish or cooled and used in salads. They taste especially good with Mexican recipes that include tomatoes, hot peppers and fresh corn.


Category Nopale recipes not found


  1. a b c d "Eating Cactus: Prickly Pear for Food". Extension | University of Nevada, Reno. Retrieved 2024-06-29.
  2. a b November 15, Tadhg Hylier Stevens Updated; 2019. "What Are Nopales and How Do You Cook Them?". MyRecipes. Retrieved 2024-06-29.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  3. a b c d e Martínez, Mely (2009-06-26). "How To Cook Nopales (Cactus Paddles) | Quick and Easy!". Mexico In My Kitchen. Retrieved 2024-06-29.