How to Cut and Prepare Prickly Pears

Please welcome Garrett McCord as he shows us how to cut up a prickly pear. ~Elise

Known to few, the fruit of the nopales cactus (cacti with beaver tail-like paddles), are actually quite edible. Called prickly pears, these neon fruit provide delicious juice that tastes like a cross between all-natural bubblegum (if indeed there is such a thing) and watermelon.

Prickly pear juice is often used to make jam or candy, but works wonders in cocktails and used in vinaigrettes for salads. I’ve used the juice to flavor cream cheese frosting for a lime flavored cupcake, and have seen others boil it down with a bit of orange and lemon juice to make a sauce for fruit salads and cheesecakes.

Many Mexican markets, farmers markets, and some natural food supermarkets carry prickly pears, but you can find these plants growing in California, the Southwest, Mexico, and the Mediterranean. Be warned though, while the ones in markets have been cleaned of the tiny hair-like thorns, the ones fresh off the cactus are covered with them, so be sure to handle them with heavy leather work gloves and scrub them hard to ensure all the painful little barbs are off. Either way, handle them carefully or with gloves just in case.

How to Cut and Prepare Prickly Pears


1 Slice both ends of the prickly pear off. Discard them.

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2 Make one long vertical slice down the body of the prickly pear.

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3 Slip your finger into the slice and grab a hold of the skin.

4 Begin to peel back the thick fleshy skin that's wrapped around the prickly pear. Discard the skin. You'll be left with the prickly pear itself. The flesh is studded with tons of little edible seeds, if you like them, feel free to just chop the prickly pear up and eat, seeds and all.

I myself prefer just the juice. To extract the juice, place the "husked" prickly pears into a blender or food processor and pulse until liquefied. Place the juice into a fine mesh sieve and push out the juice into a pitcher or bowl. Discard the remaining pulp and seeds.

Use the juice as you like. Depending on the size of the prickly pears, 6 to 12 prickly pears will get you about 1 cup of juice. It's great mixed in with some fresh lemonade, just use equal parts of prickly pear juice to lemonade.

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Do you have a favorite prickly pear recipe? Please let us know about it in the comments.


Prickly pear sorbet from FXcuisine
Prickly pear cactus fruit salad from Scrumptious Street
Prickly pear cactus mojito by Feed Your Vegetarian
Prickly pear juice with lime, ginger, and honey from Ilva of Lucullian Delights
Tuna Juice from Rambling Spoon (prickly pear is also called tuna)

Showing 4 of 82 Comments

  • Kalyn

    Very interesting! I’ve never seen this for sale or growing here but I bet it’s available if I knew what I was looking for.

  • Alanna

    Do prickly pear usually go the sweet route? I found prickly pears via Melissa’s and tucked them into a tomatillo salsa. But I remember them being green, not that gorgeous magenta in your photos, Elise and Garrett.

    They can be green, orange, yellow, or magenta. Each has their own variations of taste. The green ones being a bit bitter, the orange and yellows ones having a more bright flavor. ~Garrett

  • AG

    I’ve seen these growing in every southern state in which I’ve lived, mostly in sandy pastures. Those states include Arkansas, Alabama and certainly Texas, where they are so common in some places they are basically a weed.
    I’ve see it suggested to burn the thorns off the fruit before picking with a cigarette lighter. They are so thin that they immediately burn off without damaging the fruit.


  • Yi-Wen

    Ooh I’ve never had a prickly pear before, but absolutely love its largest cousin the ‘dragon fruit’. Wonder if they taste similar?

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