Nopalea juice has been marketed recently as a refreshing health drink, widely available online and from various network marketing companies. However, most people have never even heard of Nopalea, much less drink the juice extracted from it. Is it even safe to drink?
The Prickly Pear Cactus
The Nopalea is actually a family of cacti known in scientific circles as the fig opuntia, or the prickly pear. Though most people in the US and the United Kingdom might not have heard of it, the prickly pear cactus is fairly common in Mexico and in Middle Eastern countries. In fact, some of its other names are cactus pear, barbary fig, and Indian fig opuntia.
Aside from being a common plant, the prickly pear cactus is also common as a food source. Mexicans and natives from other countries typically cultivate prickly pear cacti to harvest their fruit which are called tunas. Tunas are shaped like small, bulbous footballs, are yellowish-red in color, and have a taste that can be comparable to that of watermelons, though tunas are sweeter.
Tunas are a popular summer fruit, as they are juicy, also like the watermelon. The fruit contains many small hard seeds, though these are usually eaten along with the succulent flesh without any problems. Tunas are also made into jam preserves and wine, especially in certain parts of Italy.
Another part of the prickly pear that serves a culinary purpose is the pad itself. The flesh of the pad can be eaten while the plant is still young and tender when the thorns have yet to fully mature and harden. Prickly pear pads can be pickled and used as a side dish, or grated and sliced, skin and all, and mixed with other vegetables and eggs and served for breakfast. The taste and texture are comparable to that of string beans.
Are There Any Side Effects?
As the nopalea juice is extracted mainly from the tuna fruits, there are no adverse or unwanted side effects in drinking the juice, provided that the juice is 100% pure with no artificial sugars or preservatives added. In fact, most medical journals and blogs deem the nopalea as a fairly safe food item.
As a juice from the fruits, the nopalea juice contains mostly water which is good for replenishing the body of its lost moisture during the summer months. Drinking nopalea will help flush out the toxins from the body as well as counter the effects of constipation.
Some variants of the nopalea drink also contain juice extracted from the cacti pads. The pads of the cacti, like the fruit, are also high in water, though they also contain low amounts of protein. This means that juices with cacti pad extracts will give a small boost of energy aside from replenishing the body’s fluids.
One welcome side effect of nopalea juice is its natural analgesic or pain-relieving effect, thanks to the chemical Betalain found in its juice. Betalain has also been proven to have mild anti-inflammatory properties, which is why it is advisable for those with asthma and breathing difficulties to drink nopalea juice.