Aloe vera has been used for centuries as a topical skin treatment. Common in Indian and Southeast Asian cuisines, aloe can also be eaten, either cooked or raw. The pale green “skin” of the stalks hides the clear “meat” inside the leaves, as well as the natural gel the plant produces, both of which are edible. You can use aloe on salads or in drinks, where it provides a refreshing taste. Aloe is considered safe for oral consumption, but because it has a natural laxative effect, long-term, regular consumption is not advised.
Preparing Raw Aloe
While the outer green skin of aloe can be eaten, it is often bitter and tough, so it is removed and only the clear inner portion of the stalk is consumed. The easiest way of getting at the gel is to peel away the skin with a sharp knife and then crush the meat inside and eat it as is. However, more elaborate preparations often have large pieces of the stalk cut into rectangular portions that can then be added to salads or drinks for texture. You can rinse off the gel the plant naturally excretes before eating the meat, but the gel is also edible, although the sticky texture may be unpalatable for some people.
One of the easiest ways of consuming raw aloe is to make it into a “juice.” You don’t juice whole aloe stems; instead, you mix the pieces of aloe meat and gel with water and drink the fluid. Because aloe is naturally a little bitter, you can also soak the cut pieces in water overnight and then drink only the water. The texture of aloe is soft and a little sticky, which some people might find unpleasant. You can also blend prepared aloe with fresh juices -- such as orange, lemon or even grape -- to mask the flavor and texture, as aloe is mild-tasting. According to a review published in "Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, 2nd Edition" by Meika Foster, Duncan Hunter and Samir Samman, aloe vera gel may help treat constipation and may help lower blood sugar in Type 2 diabetes. Raw aloe pulp and gel may also relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and ulcers.
Using in Salads
You can use raw aloe in salads by adding small pieces as a topping or larger pieces as the primary ingredient, often with some herb garnishes. This second type of salad is common to Indian and Southeast Asian cultures, where eating raw aloe is more common. You can also mix the gel with salad dressings. Because of its mild flavor and slippery texture, you can treat raw aloe in salads much as you would seaweed. The natural coolness of the plant pairs well with strong flavors, such as sesame seed oil, hot peppers and garlic.
You can also eat cooked aloe. In this case, larger pieces are used, and the delicate texture of the plant takes best to gentle cooking methods, such as poaching. Aloe releases a lot of water when it is cooked and becomes softer as it shrinks down. You can gently steam or poach the aloe before using it in juices, salads or even soups and stir-fries for a gentler taste. Fully cooked aloe no longer has a slimy texture, which may make it more appealing.