The fruit of the cholla cactus is also known as chollas, jumping cactus, and tasajillo. They ripen in late September. The fruit is mature when they turn red on the outside (usually). They will usually turn orange on the inside at this time.
Chollas can be made into syrups, preserves, and jellies just like most traditionally used fruits.
The fruit is a fleshy berry that contains many seeds. The seeds inside resemble blueberries or grapes. The flavor of the fruit resembles a sweet melon with a very mild taste of cucumber.
Of course, it is easier to simply eat them ripe straight off the cactus. To eat simply cut open the fruit and scoop out the insides. The seeds are edible so no need to discard them, although some people do. Some people discard the many small seeds, while others eat them right along with the fruit.
The buds can be dried and then ground into flour.
The green pads of the cactus can be harvested at any time and eaten raw, fried or boiled.
Are Cholla Buds Edible?
All the buds and the fruits of the cholla are edible, but the plants are covered with a thick layer of needle-sharp spines. This can be dangerous because these spines cause irritation to the skin. The stems and fruit have to be cooked before they can be eaten. Before cooking, remove the spines and soak them in water for a few minutes.
The cholla cactus—a species of the Opuntia genus—is a spiny tree that’s found throughout the Southwestern United States and Mexico. The plant is most well-known for its abundance of fruit, which grows in clusters that ripen from red to yellow, orange, or red over time. Cholla fruits are edible and rich in vitamins A, B, C, and E. They’re also known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor benefits.
What Does Cholla Cactus Taste Like?
Cholla buds are considered a delicacy and are eaten raw with salt or cooked in stews. The interior soft flesh of Cholla buds has a green vegetal flavor similar to asparagus or artichoke with a distinct lemony tang.
Properly prepared, they taste like a fantastical combination of green bean, artichoke heart, and asparagus, with a slight acidity that gives them a distinctive flavor all their own.
Is Cholla Cactus Poisonous?
Cacti are known for their spines, which are used to protect the plant against predators. The range of spine shapes and sizes is wide, from large spines that form a protective armor to microscopic needle-like spines that can actually be quite dangerous if they get deep into tissues. However, despite their dangerous looks, cholla cactus spines are not poisonous. In fact, in the United States, no cactus species has ever caused a human death from its spines.
While cactus spines aren’t poisonous, some of them can be dangerous (for example Cholla or hairlike spines), if they get deep into tissues. Cacti are also known for their tiny glochids—a kind of minute sharp-edged hair that give some cacti their “sugar cube” appearance. Glochids can detach and stick-like thorns under your skin and even in your eyes (ouch!).
What Do You Do with Cholla Buds?
When you think of cholla buds, you’re probably thinking of cacti or spiky desert landscapes. But what about food? In the Sonoran Desert, cholla buds are a common part of the ingredients list for traditional dishes like nopalitos.
Cholla buds aren’t just tasty; they’re also versatile. Once prepared, they can be added to stews, chilis, salads, and stir-fry. They can be dried, pickled, or ground into chili powders.
How to Eat Cholla Buds
To eat cholla buds, pluck them with tongs and put the buds into a paper bag or a metal pan.
Use a stick or wooden paddle to rough up the buds a bit to knock the spines off. This will get most of them off; sadly, most is not all.
Although cholla and prickly pears both produce glochids, cholla often has more. Glochids can be nearly invisible; they present a problem for screeners because not every spinelet comes off during the screening process.
Next, put on a pair of latex gloves to protect your hands. Place the cholla buds on a sheet pan or another similar flat surface. Use tweezers to remove any remaining glochids. Be meticulous and take your time, because glochids can be hard to remove once the buds are cooked or dried.
If you boil them for a minute or two, then shock them in cold water, which softens the remaining spines.
To store cholla buds, put them in an airtight container and refrigerate. They will keep for a week or so. This allows them to acclimate to their new environment. To prepare them for eating, oven-dry for 15 minutes at 100°F
Dried cholla buds will last until the Second Coming. Keep them in a mason jar, and if you have one of those silicon packets, drop one in; this keeps moisture out of the jar.
To eat cholla buds, rehydrate them overnight in some water, or boil them straight away. Regardless they need to be simmered until tender, which can take anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes. If you really like them and want to eat your cholla buds faster, dehydrate, cook, then freeze in a bag.
Although all the buds and fruits of the cholla are edible, I would recommend against eating them if you are not experienced in finding and removing these spines. The needle-sharp spines can be quite dangerous if they get stuck in your mouth or throat, and can cause serious injury. If you do decide to eat any of the cholla plants, be sure to wear gloves and use a knife to remove the spines before consuming.
Be sure to cook any plant before eating it, as many of them can cause stomach irritation if not properly prepared.
If you are looking for a snack that will provide you with some good nutrients and vitamins, then these plants can be a great option for you. Just be careful not to get stung by one of the spines!