The Surprising Health Benefits Of Cooking With Aloe Vera (Plus 4 Tasty Recipes)

This miracle plant isn’t just for skin care—it's good for your insides, too. Here's how to cook with aloe vera.

April 14, 2017
Cook with aloe to reap surprising health benefits.
Thu Thai Thanh / EyeEm/Getty

Everyone knows that it’s a good idea to keep an aloe vera plant around since aloe vera gel can soothe minor burns and scrapes. But how about cooking with aloe vera? It turns out that aloe vera is also good for your insides—it has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties that help soothe conditions like diabetes (one study found it reduced fasting blood glucose levels), diverticulitis, and other digestive complaints.

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You can buy a range of tasty aloe vera drinks at the store. But if your supermarket has a decent Latin produce section, you can also pick up some fresh leaves and try cooking with aloe vera at home. Here’s what you need to know.

Get the right kind of aloe vera

Firstly, we wouldn’t recommend using your house plant for cooking with aloe vera—stick to the large leaves that you find in your grocery store in the Latin foods section (according to the International Aloe Science Council, these are aloe barbadensis, or Aloe vera (L.) Burm. f.). And be careful handling aloe leaves—those spikes on the sides can be sharp.

Peel aloe leaves before cooking aloe vera to remove skin and the bitter aloe vera latex.
Photograph courtesy of Amy Fritch

How to peel aloe vera leaves 

To prepare aloe vera leaves for cooking, start by cutting off the spiky sides and the tough green outer leaf. You’ll end up with just the translucent gel inside. Rinse the gel well to remove all the latex, which is the yellowish goo that can taste bitter and have a laxative effect if too much is consumed. We’d generally recommend that pregnant women and children stay away from ingesting it altogether.

 

Fresh aloe gel is slimy. Like, really slimy. There were so many Ghostbusters jokes flying around the Rodale Test Kitchen as we worked with it! So, fair warning: if you have food texture issues, tread lightly with aloe.

Here's how to prepare aloe vera leaves for recipes:

1. Cut the aloe leaf into 3-4-inch sections.

2. Stand a section upright on a cutting board, slice off the spiky sides and discard.

3. Slice off the green skin from the flatter side of the aloe, leaving as much of the clear flesh as possible.

4. Lay the aloe flat with the green skin-side down on the cutting board and use a spoon to remove the clear, gel-like flesh (we used a knife, but it's really slippery, so please use a spoon when you do this at home). Trim off any remaining green parts and discard.

5. Rinse the aloe flesh in several changes of water to remove as much of the excess goo as possible. Drain, and it’s ready to use.    

Here's a little video we shot of the proccess:

Tip: If you have extra aloe gel, freeze it in ice cube trays with a bit of water, then add to your next cold drink or blend into a smoothie.

Once you’ve rinsed and drained the aloe gel, and made all the ectoplasm jokes, then you’re ready to go.

Related: 10 Secrets Every Professional Chef Knows

Why make your own aloe vera drinks?

Here at the Rodale Test Kitchen, we’ve tried a few commercially prepared aloe drinks and really liked them. We loved the bits of aloe floating around the syrupy sweet liquid. (Our favorites are Alo’s Allure and Awaken  drinks.) But with a fresh drink, you benefit from being able to control the type and quanity of sweetener in your beverage—and you know your aloe is fresh.  

 

After filleting our own aloe leaf, we tasted the aloe gel on its own and frankly, it was bitter and sort of tasteless. With a little bit of acid (think lemons or lime) and some sweetener (honey, maple syrup) it was delicious. We also found that aloe is actually pretty versatile—we enjoyed it in a warm milky tonic as well as in a refreshing lemonade. If you don’t like stuff floating in your drinks, that’s no problem. Just follow the recipe, and blend it in a blender or with an immersion blender before drinking—the aloe gives a nice, frothy body without a hint of sliminess. 

Related: The 5 Worst Sweeteners You Should Avoid—And 5 Safe Alternatives To Try Instead

Recipe for aloe vera lemonade
Photograph courtesy of Amy Fritch

Aloe Vera Lemonade

Makes 1 quart

If you don’t have agave on hand, make a simple syrup of ¼ cup water and ¼ cup granulated sugar. Simmer until sugar is dissolved, then cool. Substitute equally for the agave, and store any remainder in the refrigerator.

¼ cup (2 ounces) diced aloe
Juice of ½ lemon + ½ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
3 cups cold water
¼ cup maple syrup, agave, honey, plus more to taste

Soak the aloe in the juice of ½ lemon for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a quart-size jar, combine the water, ½ cup lemon juice, and ¼ cup maple, agave or honey. Screw on the lid and vigorously shake until the agave is distributed. Give it a taste and add more agave, if desired. Strain the aloe from the lemon juice (discard juice) and rinse aloe very well under running water. Add to the jar, shake, and serve. Lemonade, with aloe, will keep in the refrigerator for 3 days.

Related: 5 Foods That Help Reduce Your Anxiety Naturally

Recipe for a warming chai spiced aloe vera and almond milk tonic
Photograph courtesy of Amy Fritch

Warming Chai Spiced Aloe Vera Tonic

Serves 2

¼ cup (2 ounces) diced aloe
2 cups almond milk (or any milk)
1 cinnamon stick
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
2 cardamom pods
2 whole cloves
1 star anise
1 teaspoon maple sugar or brown sugar
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
½ teaspoon fennel seeds

Soak the aloe in water. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring the milk, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, anise, sugar, peppercorns, and fennel seeds to a simmer over medium. Remove from heat, cover, and steep 10 minutes. Strain into a blender. Strain the aloe and rinse under water; add to the blender and blend until frothy, 30–60 seconds. The spiced milk will keep in the fridge for 3 days. Reheat before blending with the aloe. Makes 2 cups.

Related: 4 Healing Soups To Boost Your Immune System

A recipe for a tropical guava and aloe vera drink
Photograph courtesy of Amy Fritch

Tropical Aloe Vera Quencher

Makes 1 drink

The consistency of this beverage is similar to bubble tea. If you prefer not to “chew” your drink, give the juice-aloe mixture a few quick pulses in a blender or food processor to smooth before adding the fizzy water.

1 Tablespoon (½ ounce) finely chopped aloe
½ cup cold guava or other nectar
2 Tablespoon cold pineapple juice
½ cup cold club soda, seltzer water, or sparkling water

Soak the aloe in water for 15 minutes. Strain and rinse well under running water. In a large glass, combine the aloe with the nectar and pineapple juice. Add the club soda and stir to distribute.

Related: I Replaced All Of My Cookware With The Instant Pot For One Week—Here's What I Learned

Poaching Aloe Vera

Another tasty way to eat aloe vera is to poach it in some lime juice and sugar. We used that tart-sweet poached aloe vera to top a light and creamy dessert. The poaching firms up the aloe pieces and the lime and sugar dispels any bitter flavors.

Recipe for a mango gelatin and aloe vera dessert.
Photograph courtesy of Amy Fritch

Mango Gelatin with Lime-Poached Aloe Vera

Serves 6

You can’t use fresh mango with a gelatin dessert (enzyme that usually interferes with the gelatin setting), but heating mango nectar instead neutralizes that enzyme and makes this dessert work (so don’t skip that step!). For a less sweet version, don’t use the poaching liquid to top the dessert, just use the aloe pieces.

1 large aloe leaf (12-14 ounces)
¼ cup sugar
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 packages unflavored gelatin powder
2 cups mango nectar
½ cup whole milk Greek yogurt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

1. Follow the 'How To Peel Aloe Vera Leaves' instructions above. Rinse the aloe flesh to remove as much of the excess goo as possible. Drain.    

2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir together the sugar, lime juice, and 2 Tablespoons water until sugar dissolves. Add ½ cup of the chopped aloe and bring to a simmer. Cook until the aloe is firm, 10 minutes. Remove from heat, cool, and refrigerate the aloe in the poaching liquid until ready to use.

3. In a medium bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 1 cup cold water and let stand for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring the mango nectar to a boil.  Pour the hot nectar into the gelatin mixture, and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved, 5 minutes. Pour into six 4 oz ramekins and refrigerate until set, 1-2 hours.

4. To serve, stir together the yogurt, vanilla, and cardamom. Spread 2 Tablespoons of the yogurt mixture over each ramekin and top with a tablespoon of the aloe and poaching liquid.