How to Prepare a Prickly Pear

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Well, the prickly pear is not a common ingredient in most kitchens. Being a cactus fruit, they're quite a bit of work for not a lot of juice, but what you do get its colorful, flavorful and great for cocktails or vinegarette. It doesn't really taste like anything except prickly pear, so until you try it I can't really describe it to you. They're very fresh, can be a bit crisp and, I dunno... old world. It has a sense of history to it; a story you can only let your tongue tell to you.

When picking them out, go for the ones soft to the touch, but not rotting or massively bruised (shop for them like you would for a peach). Unless you are familiar with them, handle them with gloves so as not to get your self with the fine needles. I say fine because they don't so much hurt, but they irritate like hell and you have to tweezer the thousands of small threadlike needles out. Some stores have them pretty well scraped so you may not have to worry, but they rarely get all of them.

To prepare them...
1) Cut off the ends, then make a slit down the vertical length of the fruit.
2) Peel it apart. Think of the fruit like the earth, with a crust, mantle, and core.
Like so: [(O)]
The crust and mantle peel easily off the core, [( O )], leaving you with the seedy core.
3) Cut the core up and press and mash through a fine sieve (maybe process in a food processor first if you want). You want to get out all those inedible seeds. Afterwards, you are then left with the bright pink juice.

The juice is refreshing with a splash of tequila, gives new life to lemonade, or mix with some light red vinegar for a salad dressing. Reduce it for 15 minutes over medium heat for a great sauce for ice cream or as a glaze for pork. I've also heard of people making jam or utilizing the juice or seedless puree for prickly pear ice cream.

Maybe I'll even figure out a cupcake recipe with it someday? Hmm...

Update 3/1/07: I have gotten a lot of questions as where to buy these. Nugget Markets in the Sac and Davis areas seem to carry them. You can also go and pick them yourself if you see a nopales cactus (they're everywhere in California and the Southwest), just be just to handle them with heavy gloves until you have just the core as they won't have been cleaned of the needles like in a market. Some bushes can be found on the UCD campus across from the Chem 194 building and in the UCD Arboretum near the horse stables. Many markets will do special orders, and prickly pears are cheap so you can always go that route as well.


  1. Wow! Where is such an exotic fruit from? I've never even heard of a prickly pear. The photos of the inside of the pear look amazing! Prickly pear margarita anyone?

  2. Excellent! I've been looking for some prickly pear recipes as its the state fruit of Texas. So delicious (but difficult to find here in NYC.)

  3. Brings back memories of when I would contract over 500,000 lbs. of puréed prickly pear for a former company. The color is so amazingly bright fuschia, you can hardly believe it's natural. In the heat of the summer months, I make a deliciously, thirst quenching prickly pear lemonade and when we have an abundant crop, I make a marmalade that only the fortunate palates can savor.
    We have this cactus varietal growing in our backyard and harvest very carefully. It's great for a delightful salsa! They also make a fabulous gelée. Here's a bit of trivia - did you know that they are now grown in Africa and originally brought to this country from Southern Italian immigrants?
    Are you having fun playing with your food?

    Anni :-)

  4. Hey thanks for the tutorial. I came across a prickly pear cactus walking in a midtown alley, somewhere in the south east corner of the grid. I picked a fruit, but I didn't know what to do with it, so I just dissected it but not after getting all those little spines in my hand. They sure are annoying!

  5. Thanks for that post. I've never done anything with them, or even knew anyone who did. I appreciate the primer. I've actually seen those evil looking suckers popping of the tops of the cactus growing on the hill across from the house. I'd never, never, never, never, ever try to pick my own (but it's tempting).

  6. Well, I guess I'm pre-pear-ed to take on this task now. Thanks for the technique tips!

  7. I've heard of it but I had no clue it was edible! How interesting. If you create a cupcake with this, we would not be worthy. seems like a hard fruit to do any type of cooking or baking with!

  8. Very cool! I have some cacti in my neighborhood so maybe I will go foraging on my next dog walk and see if I can casually slip one or two in my pocket.

    Actually ... probably not a good idea, huh?

  9. Greetings from Singapore Garrett :D Found you from my blog pal Ms. Cupcake.

    This prickly pear is so interesting and never come across at all but do you really go out to pick it or you actually buy them from the supermarket?

    Thank you for sharing....:D

  10. Interesting post -- I've seen them at the market, but never knew what I'd do with it if I bought one. Now I know...

    Not to be too rude, btw, but I believe you meant "vinaigrette" (by "vinegarette").

  11. Gigi - They are actually from Europe, but then they flourished here in the West and in Mexico. And they do rock in margaritas.

    Texan - Ouch, I bet.

    Anni - Thanks for the lesson! I had no idea!

    llsan - I grabbed one with my fist once... yeah, took hours to get all the spines out.

    acme - go with store bought if you can, less dangerous

    sean - ha... ha...

    jennifer - working on a baking recipe for it!!!

    kt - just use gloves to handle it, it's fine.

    shionge - welcome from cali! glad you found me! hope to talk more with you!!! :) (and i get them at the market when i can)

    Annonymous - Dude, I was typing this at 1 am. Lay up. As for the pear, def. go give it a try, it's very easy to prepare.

  12. Thanks!!!! I've never tackled one before. I'd like to make some jam from them.

  13. interesting, I'll have to pick one up next time I come across it.

  14. Thanks for this!

    (I hate it when someone corrects my spelling--who has the time or will to correct it when one is so tired?)

    We knew what you meant.:)

  15. Garrett,
    I bought one once and loved the taste, but hated the embedded seeds. Do you know of any way to remove the seeds while preserving some of the integrity of the flesh? I would be awesome tossed with a salad or something else. I suppose straining it is the easiest way though.

  16. Brendon - Sadly no, I don't. I think that using them for the juice or strained puree is the only way to go.

  17. How very interesting!! I came across my first prickly pear (and products made from it like jam, candy etc) during my recent trip to Phoenix. At the Dessert Botanical Garden, where we saw a whole bunch of prickly pear cacti they taught us more about it. Prickly Pear jelly is what I brought home for family and friends since you can't find any of that stuff over here. :)

  18. PRICKLY PEAR aka DRAGON FRUIT aka pitaya

    hi all, go to :

    for more information on the above fruit...

    try it with chocolate, it brings outs the mild flavored fruit to a slight tang!

  19. Crystal - Hey crystal, sorry but no. Dragon fruit and prickly pear are very different fruits. If you buy them both they are very very very very different in appearence, taste, size, preparation, etc.

    Buy both of them and see. The only thing they have in common are both magenta.

    I have tried the pear with coco and you are right, it is quite yummy.

    Wikipedia links:
    Prickly pear:
    Pitaya/Dragon Fruit:

  20. hiya garrett,

    i did go and check it out, and geez i seriously thought that it was a dragon fruit, being a cacti and all...

    sorry for the mis-information...hehehe...

    thank you...


  22. one way to deal with the prickers, if you're picking them from actual cacti, is to toast them quickly over a flame, and just sort of burn the needles off. we used to make jam at my grandparents' house in arizona growing up, but i had no idea nugget had 'em.

  23. Here's a hint from a West Texan who loves these...
    Two, actually.
    When picking, use a rolled up piece of newspaper to wrap around the fruit and pull from the cacti.
    Then, roll and rub the fruit on concrete (using the newspaper as a handle) to remove all those spines.

  24. omg i so know about this we have them in aussie and i got a prickle in the tongue


  25. Thankyou so much, I am from Texas and they grow everywhere here. I have alway's heard rumors that it is poisinous to eat raw. Hopefully it doesn't have to be a certain type of cactus, but if i die it's because I ate the prickly pear off a prickly pear cactus. Just kidding. I'd love to try one out, I've heard of people making jams with them.. I could pick them off the side of the road all day long!!!

  26. I have no idea why all these folks think that Opuntia come from Europe! They are from the Americas originally, of course!

  27. Just went on an early harvest of the beautiful prickly pear here in Tucson AZ. Opuntia engelmannii, Engelman's prickly pear produces the best fruit. My daughter and I just went into the desert tongs and soup pots in hand. Forget the gloves and if you happen to get the little stickers on you forget the tweezers...scrape them off with a credit card or drivers license works the best...although avoiding them is key. When picking them find the deep red ones and pull-twist them off the cactus..if they leave a little magenta flag you got a good one if not leave it for the bunnies and javalinas. I have found the EASIEST way to juice these babies is with a juiceman juicer I got as a gift a while back..this juicer separates the seeds needles and unwanted parts of the fruit out and leaves you with yummy colorful juice....which can be poured into ice-cube trays and frozen for year-round use. One of the most fascinating things to me about this extremely magenta juice is that IT DOES NOT STAIN!!! You can simply wipe it up or rinse it off with water... and I have white tile counters. My daughter is dying to try the lime prickly pear cupcakes....but she'll have to wait 'til tomorrow. Enjoy!!

  28. First to correct a rather large error.
    All cactus are native to the new world, North and South America. Italian immigrants MAY have brought some, who knows. The kinds we eat and were imported centuries ago are Mexican species. Opuntia is the genus. Google it. They are grown all over the world and have been planted for various reasons, as fodder (didn't work in Australia where they are a menace now) living fence, for fruit and ornamental. Everything with a spine is not a cactus.
    I use tongs to clean them. They are covered with tiny spines called glocids that enter the skin and can cause infection, as well the large very visible spines. I hold them with tongs and cut as discribed in the first part. There are white, yellow, red, orange pink and purple types. Yellow has the best flavor for me, like a sweet melon. The seeds are edible but are large and bother some people. Not me, I eat the fruit sliced chilled and sometimes with a squeeze of lime juice if they are too sweet. Enjoy

  29. I'm in Tucson, AZ. You can use flame to get rid of the glochids from what I have been told. I'm going to do that next year when I go pick them. I used a knife & scraped them off while using tongs to hold the fruit. Then I blanched them to pop the skins off -then made a puree in a food processor. Very good stuff!!
    -Epsom salt water soak removes those little spines that brake off at the skin.

  30. Thank you for all the info on prickly pear cactus fruit. I'm living in Mexico now and at my local grocery store they had so many of them they were practically giving them away. I took a few but had not idea how to eat or prepare them. Now I do! These ones are a very deep purple/magenta but not so sweet, very meaty & crisp. It has a very interesting & different taste - I put it in my morning smoothie! Thanks again!


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