What Is Aloe Vera—and Should You Eat It?
It does way more than soothe sunburns.
When you stay out in the sun too long and end up with bright red shoulders, you'll probably reach for a bottle of aloe vera. It's best known for soothing the pain of a sunburn, but there’s more than one way to use the plant's beneficial properties.
What Is Aloe Vera?
People have used aloe vera for thousands of years to treat everything from acne to digestion issues. There are over 420 species of the succulent plant. Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis Miller) comes from the Liliaceae family and grows in dry areas in Africa, Asia, Europe, and America.
You can eat both the clear gel and yellow latex in the leaf. The gel, or “meat,” has several health benefits, while the yellow latex—which is found between the leaf skin and the gel—is commonly used for constipation. Though they're typically bitter and tough, the sliced-off leaves are also sometimes eaten.
How Do You (and Should You) Eat Aloe Vera?
WATCH: How To Access Aloe
The gel from the plant is safe to eat and adds a refreshing taste to different dishes and drinks. But there are safety concerns when it comes to the latex in the leaf. In fact, it's the anthraquinones—which are responsible for aloe's laxative effect—that studies say could cause cancer. You could get diarrhea or cramps from eating the latex too. However, it's not hard to separate it from the gel.
Most grocery stores sell individual leaves in the produce section. When picking one out, find a leaf that's firm, full, and has as few blemishes as possible.
You can eat the gel raw or cooked. To prepare it, you first need to peel the leaf. Cut off the spiky top and sides as well as the white bottom part of the leaf. Then slice off one side of the skin lengthwise using a vegetable peeler or knife, working from top to bottom. You can scoop the gel out with a spoon or slice off the other side of the skin.
Cut the gel into cubes and rinse them to wash off any dirt or the bitter latex, which is the yellow residue you may see. You can eat the aloe chunks raw or use a gentle cooking method like poaching, blanching or steaming. Cooking aloe vera meat makes it release more water and gives it a milder taste.
Here are a few ways to use it in your cooking:
- You can easily make aloe vera juice by adding aloe gel to water and drinking it.
- If you're not a fan of the texture and slightly bitter flavor of an aloe vera juice, you can also blend cubes of the aloe meat into smoothies like the Açai Super Smoothie and juices like the detoxifying Cilantro-Celery Juice Punch for a refreshing drink with an antioxidant boost.
- Take inspiration from Asian culture and top your salads with cubes of aloe vera. The cooling properties of the plant pair especially well with spicier salad recipes like Soba Noodle Salad with Vegetables and Tofu.
- To eat the aloe vera skin, rinse it and slice it up thinly to add crunch to salads or cut it into "chips" for appetizers like Smoky Red Lentil Hummus, Creamy Feta-Spinach Dip and Salsa Roja.
Aloe Vera Health Benefits
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Aloe contains 75 active substances, including vitamins A, C, and E. All of these vitamins have antioxidant properties that protect you from free radicals, which are linked to diseases like cancer and heart disease. Aloe also has essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
The plant has many digestive uses too. Substances called anthraquinones in the yellow latex act as a strong laxative. And it can help people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome have less stomach discomfort, pain, and gas.
Aloe can also help lower blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes, according to a study.
How to Store Aloe Vera
Fresh is best, but aloe leaves are good for a few weeks in the fridge. You can make them last longer by freezing them, though. Whether you're storing your leaves in the fridge or freezer, you can wrap them in plastic wrap or put them in plastic bags. When you're ready to use a frozen leaf, let it defrost at room temperature for a few hours.
You can also keep the gel in the fridge or freezer. Put it in a jar to store in the refrigerator or in a plastic bag for either the freezer or fridge. You can also pour the gel into ice cube trays for freezing. You may notice that the gel changes color over time. That's normal.