Things you should know before harvesting aloe vera for cooking
The apartment in which I currently live is a death trap, in which plants enter, wither and die: I am not joking- I have had more success growing hot climate plants in rainy London than in this apartment in tropical Singapore! Thankfully, there are 3 exceptions that have survived: chilli plants (albeit sterile ones), a curry plant and an aloe vera plant, all of which have culinary applications. (Last week, I made a delicious salted egg popcorn with my curry plant.)
What is aloe vera?
A succulent plant that originated in the Persian Gulf, aloe vera thrives in hot climates and is grown as an ornamental plant, as well as used in skincare and food, typically desserts and drinks. (I have heard that aloe vera is added to curries in India- if you can confirm this, please do leave a comment! 🙂 ) Growing up in Singapore in the 80s, we ate aloe vera straight off the plant and were also taught to rub sunburns (and mild burns) with aloe vera gel (the inside bit of the aloe vera). Do note that not every species of aloe vera is edible so please check before you start harvesting aloe vera for cooking!
Harvesting aloe vera for cooking
We’ve all seen the cute pictures of aloe vera cocktails on Pinterest, where aloe vera stems are inserted into a glass of margarita. It makes for a very pretty picture but do NOT follow what you see! Part of the aloe vera plant is a laxative and, in sufficient quantities, is poisonous so care should be taken when eating aloe vera. Always make sure the thin layer in between the inner gel and outer skin- the toxic bit- is completely removed. It can be yellow or brown in colour, although sometimes it’s so thin you can’t quite see it.
To add aloe vera to your food, use either a sharp knife or a potato peeler to remove the thick dark green outer skin- I suggest you start by cutting off the spiky left and right ends to make handling easier- making sure that the toxic yellow or brown layer is removed as well. You will be left with a clear and rather slimy inner gel, which you can then cut up and use in the kitchen.
How do you use aloe vera into your cooking?
In Singapore and Malaysia, aloe vera is commonly used in desserts and drinks. In fact, my favourite dessert at Jiang Nan Chun, a 1-Michelin star Cantonese restaurant in Four Seasons Singapore, is their aloe vera with lemongrass jelly – the menu has changed substantially in the 22 years I’ve been going there, but the aloe vera lemongrass jelly has been a staple on the menu throughout, so you can tell how delicious the combination is! For example, you can use aloe vera cubes in addition to (or in place of) nata de coco in this refreshing champagne lychee konnyaku jelly dessert.
Aloe vera doesn’t have much flavour on its own, so is primarily used for its texture. It also works well as a thickener to bulk up smoothies and fill you up faster.