We here at FruitStand are big fans of succulents: Those magical and nearly un-killable plants you buy to make you feel better about your lack of a green thumb. (Or maybe that’s just us?)
But as it turns out, these beautiful garden staples can be equally dependable in the kitchen! So if you like the idea of growing your own food – but need a little more help on the “growing” part – you might want to check out some of these plants.
But first: A quick reminder on what succulents actually are. (Since “magical and nearly un-killable plants” may not quite cover the dictionary definition.)
Succulent plants are usually short and squat, and many are associated with their beautiful, pastel leaves that tend to grow, in many cases, in great examples of the Fibonacci sequence.
They’re thick and fleshy with a constitution that is perhaps most accurately described as “plump.” And their name comes from the Latin sucus, which means “juice,” or “sap,” and, indeed, these plants pack plenty of it.
That’s because they’re mostly indigenous to arid, desert-like regions, so when they do get a bit of water, they hold onto as much as possible to help them get through drier times.
Indeed, one of the most famous types of succulent is the ultimate symbol of the desert itself: the cactus.
But their tendencies to cling to any and all moisture also make them particularly nutritious plants. Many succulents are great sources for vitamin C and a number of B vitamins, as well as dietary fiber and, of course, plenty of water, which usually gives them these health-boosting properties at a very low-calorie cost.
So what are some of the best types of succulents to eat?
It all depends on your taste buds – but there seems to be a type of succulent for everyone, with the plants offering an array of flavors, colors and textures to make any dish better.
Some of the most popular types of succulents to eat include:
Perhaps the most common type of succulent on the market – or the menu – these cacti also go by the names cactus paddles or, when it comes to a kitchen situation, nopales.
When prepared (de-spined and cleaned) they look almost like green sweet peppers, and indeed, nopales is typically prepared in similar ways, typically sliced into strips before being fried or grilled and served in everything from soups and salads to salsas and tacos. But the fruit has also found its way into a number of juices – and can just as easily be enjoyed raw.
Yes, that kind of cactus.
When you picture a desert scene in your mind, the towering green stick-figure cacti populating the scene are saguaros – and, just like their prickly pear cousins, they cacti make for some good eating.
In particular, it’s the greenish fruit produced by the beautiful white flowers on these plants that are best for the kitchen, with its bright red, and sticky sweet pulp, and deep black and nutty-tasting seeds.
Traditionally, these fruits have been used to make everything from jam to syrup to wine, but they’ve also found their way into salsas and juices in more recent years.
We promise this whole list won’t be made of cacti – but the plants sure can be made into a lot of tasty dishes (and are, in fact, a staple of many South and Central American – as well as South African – cuisines).
Hoodia Gordonii are South African natives and a prized part of many of the country’s dishes.
They’re tiny, and particularly covered with spikes, but anyone brave enough to go through the de-spining process will be rewarded with a fresh bite that tastes strikingly similar to a cucumber.
Technically a succulent! (And, indeed, technically another cacti fruit!)
These bright and brilliant bulbs are among some of the most stunning in the botany world. And their taste is just as good as their look.
Their hot pink skin yields to snow-white flesh that’s mildly sweet and a bit mealy – but populated with pops of black seeds that add some crunch and nuttiness to the overall experience.
Delicious to bite into fully raw, dragon fruit is the star of many more tropical fruit salads, but the fruit is also known to find its way in juices, jams and smoothies.
These plants pretty much taste as advertised.
Sea beans (scientific name: Salicornia) are most likely to be found in salty marshes or sandy beaches, sticking through the soil with red-tipped green tendrils. They can be eaten raw or pan-fried, delivering the flavor of string beans or asparagus – but be careful, they tend to carry that powerfully sea-salty flavor profile with them through the cooking process!
Not just good for your skin!
This succulent may be more familiarly recognized on sunburn aftercare bottles, but their plump and fleshy insides also make for a wonderful additive to anything from smoothies and salads.
Aloe can also be added directly to water to pump up the nutrition: These plants have been found to bring something like 75 phytochemicals to the party, including a huge number of antioxidants, B-vitamins, and folic acid.
So rejoice, plant lovers – succulents may live in the desert, but their nutritious and delicious possibilities are no mirage!