Taste Test

Snack Critic: Cactus Fruit Water Has a Familiar Taste That Will Surprise You

August 26, 2017

Cactus fruit, prickly pear, opuntia, tuna fruit—whatever you wanna call it—is one intriguing specimen. Coming in either yellow or pink, its studded appearance resembles rind-stripped pineapples, and its general form from the inside and out bears a strong similarity to the similarly cactus-related dragon fruit we’re more familiar with here in Southeast Asia. Fresh cactus fruit, as far as we’ve seen, isn’t available on our shores. But you can get a taste of it in a way—in the form of its “water” (that is, a beverage with a concentrated extract of the fruit’s juice, diluted and/or mixed with other liquids for flavor) via the American brand True Nopal, sold at your trusty Healthy Options.

Cactus water’s been especially popular in the health and beauty community in the past few years for its anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to hydrate the skin and help it retain moisture—among numerous other supposed health benefits. True Nopal makes sure to emphasize its healthfulness on the box, where you’ll find a number of statements printed. At the front it says it’s “100% all natural” (which the US FDA does not have an official definition for and hence does not necessarily mean anything, mind you), is capable of providing “natural hydration”, and has a “refreshing fruit taste” as well as “betalain antioxidants” . Flip to the side and it also boasts of being free of artificial flavors, fat, added sugars, GMO, sodium, and gluten, aside from having electrolytes and potassium and being vegan. These are all well and good—surely it wouldn’t hurt to give our skin a little boost especially with the erratic nature of our local climate. But being of the food-loving ilk, what we really wanted to know was: what would water supposedly from so exotic-looking a fruit even taste like?

Not ever having even encountered fresh cactus fruit, we can’t say how close True Nopal actually resembles newly-pressed cactus fruit juice—consider how different, and inferior, bottled buko juice can be compared to the fresh stuff!—but we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, anyway. The drink pours to a translucent, but nonetheless striking-looking drink with a color somewhere in between ruby-red and fuschia pink, or close to the Pantone color 1935 C— which, as far as we can tell from the label and the short ingredient list, is au naturel. You’d expect something candy-like from it—we’re immediately reminded of the Hawaiian Punch beverage we guzzled down as kids—or something strong or tart, like a berry or grape juice would be.

Appearances can be misleading however—because it couldn’t taste more different than what we had in mind. Clearly this is a water, not a juice, because the flavor is generally mild (think of a now-empty glass that previously held juice and is then filled with water) with a thin, refreshing consistency. Though barely sweet, it’s not completely neutral—but it takes a couple of sips to identify just what it was we were tasting. Most predominant is a mild tartness we’d compare to apple juice, albeit very diluted. Beneath that however, and most notable for us, is a peculiar note we can best describe as tasting nutty and  “mineral”, resembling that of juice made with talbos ng kamote (sweet potato leaves).

The overall sensation is admittedly not the most pleasurable-tasting of drinks, especially if you’re used to the hyper-sweet or flavor-potent character of other beverages; the result feels interesting, at best. And though the flavor similarity to talbos ng kamote juice at least assures the Filipino drinker of something familiar, it can make for a disappointment if you’re expecting something completely exotic-tasting—or complete aversion if you’re not used to the sweet potato leaves’ distinctive taste.

But it does grow on you—the subtlety of the flavors stokes your curiosity, and its crisp, refreshing consistency invites you to keep sipping and sipping until you’re down to the last drop. We say it’s worth getting a carton and giving it a try. (And if you end up hating it, you can at least find contention in having better skin.)

Patricia Baes SEE AUTHOR Patricia Baes Trish thinks too much about everything—truth, existence.....and what’s on her plate. Her ongoing quest for a better relationship with food has led to a passion for cooking, gastronomy, and a newfound interest in its politics. She is a cheapskate in other aspects of her life, preferring to use her savings on specialty vinegars and degustation menus. While she admits to eating out too much, cooking and baking remain her first love, and she's always looking for quirky new ways to use up seasonal produce. Thanks to her obsession with (unnecessarily) making everything from scratch, she is now desperate to clear her fridge full of homemade condiments. She dreams of perfecting the art of making soufflé with her crappy toaster oven.
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