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Aloe leaves may vary in length, anywhere from 30 to 50 centimeters long, and are lance-shaped with serrated edges. The succulent leaves are firm and have a smooth, green skin with a fleshy texture. The skin is fibrous and bitter and is not typically consumed. The clear, inner flesh or “gel” of the Aloe plant has a texture like the flesh of a firm grape. Between the thick, protective skin and the translucent, jelly-like flesh is a bitter, viscous yellow-hued sap that needs to be rinsed off. Raw Aloe has a clean, refreshing taste and a slightly green flavor that is mildly bitter. The flesh will take on the flavors of any brine or liquid it is cooked in.
Aloe vera grows in arid and sub-tropical climates year-round.
Aloe is a succulent plant, botanically and commonly known as Aloe vera, with a scientific classification of Aloe barbadensis or Aloe barbadensis var. chinensis. Aloe has been consumed and applied topically for thousands of years and is well-known for its health benefits. The word ‘Aloe’ comes from Arabic and means "shining bitter substance", referring to the translucent “meat” within the long leaves of the plant where most of its benefits lie. Aloe as a culinary ingredient is used more commonly in India, Singapore, Malaysia and Latin America. In Jamaica Aloe is known as Sinkle Bible, alluding to its all-over body benefits.
Aloe is both nutrient and mineral dense and provides a wide variety of health benefits. The “gel” or tissue within the skin contains most of the beneficial properties. Aloe is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, E, and B-complex, as well as folic acid and potassium. It also contains the minerals calcium, sodium, iron, magnesium, and copper. Aloe contains compounds called anthraquinones which provide anti-pain, antioxidant and antiviral benefits. It contains 7 of the 9 essential amino acids required for optimal health, in addition to polyphenols which provide beneficial antioxidants, and at least a dozen different compounds that reduce inflammation.
Aloe can be used both raw and cooked. Slice off the spiny edges and remove the skin using a peeler or knife. The gelatinous Aloe can be cut into cubes or strips. Most recipes suggest rinsing or soaking the aloe prior to use so any bitterness from the skin and sap is removed. Raw Aloe can be blended with water to make Aloe juice, or into smoothies or other beverages. To flavor Aloe, add different spices, citrus juices, sugar, salt or other seasonings to the soaking or poaching water. Once soaked or cooked, cubes of Aloe can be eaten as is, chilled and added to acai bowls or parfaits, or used for hors d’oeuvres, sushi, curries or soups. If adding to soups, wait until the end of the cooking process before adding the rinsed and prepared Aloe. In India, Aloe is sweetened and added to yogurt for breakfast or added to other desserts. It is also an ingredient in sabzis, which are traditional vegetable dishes. Add slices or cubes of Aloe to summer salads with cherry tomatoes and fresh mint and chill. Cut pieces of Aloe can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week in an air-tight container.
The Caribbean island of Aruba is dubbed the “Island of Aloe” in the 1920s and is the location of the oldest Aloe company, Aruba Aloe, which was founded in 1890. The beneficial plant was the first source of welfare for the small island and appears on the country’s coat of arms.
Aloe vera is an ancient plant, dating back to 4,000 BCE. It is native to Northeastern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, which includes Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. Aloe has been used as a medicinal plant for thousands of years. The earliest recorded use was by the Egyptians, who revered the plant and carved its image onto stone. The Egyptians called Aloe the “plant of immortality,” and used it as an offering at the funerals of the pharaohs. It grows best in arid, subtropical climates and is primarily cultivated in North Africa, India, Southeast Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Aloe is also cultivated throughout the drier, subtropical regions of North and South America as well as the Middle East. It is most likely spotted at farmer's markets where it grows.
Recipes that include Aloe. One is easiest, three is harder.