How to Cut and Prepare Prickly Pears

How do you cut and prepare prickly pear cactus? Carefully. Here's a step-by-step guide with photos and recipe suggestions.

Method

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.

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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.

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.

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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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Comments

  • gail orlando

    I made Prickley pear jelly last year and it was clear and a hit with everyone who tried it. This year the juice is cloudy and the jelly is still tasty but not as good. why is the juice so cloudy?

  • Jeni

    Thanks for the helpful article & comments. We live in San Antonio, TX and love prickly pears. It’s been several years since we went through the trouble to make jelly. We found some roadside yesterday that were too good to pass up (and we happened to have a leather welding glove with us) so we filled a grocery sack. After all the advice here we decided to try luck with a few ideas. We cut and peeled one, but found the seeds rock hard (as some of the comments noted) so it didn’t yield much flesh otherwise. We burned the prickles with our gas range (note: now I have to clean them off the range top); then we juiced them whole, having to rinse the machine a few times as we went. The juice was ok raw, but we decided to make syrup instead. It’s been great as a dessert topping and in drinks (can’t wait to try with lemonade). We did 2 batches: the first we strained 1.75 cups with 1 cup sugar and reduced. It was great and beautiful – almost neon purple. Then we tried 3 cups unstrained with 1.5 cups honey and reduced it. The honey masked the flavor a bit and it lost the color (strange) and was a light caramel brown (like the honey), so we won’t be using that next time.

  • Elise

    Hi Fredrik, I knew that prickly pear expanded throughout the Mediterranean but hadn’t heard that it had been imported to and spread over Australia as well!

  • Kurtis Lukasik

    Here in south Texas pricley pears grow wild along the hi-ways. The best way to harvest them is to take the sharp edge of a knife and rub the spines off while the pear is till on the plant. The spines fall freely from the fruit and you can blow on them to remove and dust left from removing the spines. You may want to have a roll of paper towels handy to wrap around the pears as you cut them from the plant. The paper towels can be disposed of as you use them. The best fruit to use are the darkest ones with a rich maroon cooler. the pears ripen around bow season here so I usually cut a few to eat while I am hunting.

    Cleaning the fruit in the sink is the next step. Use cold water only when making wine with the prickley pears so you don’t produce the slime in the juices.

    cut the top of the pear off and any hard pieces off the bottoms. cut them in half from top to bottom and place them in a blender. Blend till puried then add the same amount of water to the pulp as there is pulp. example 1 gal. pulp 1 gal. water. place the pulp and water in a large container and let it sit for an hour to let the pulp rise and the juice settle .

    Siphon the juice out of the bucket and thru a sieve to remove the seeds.

    now you have clean juice.

  • Joan Emery

    The comparable cactus fruit comes from the Cereus Peruviana and is even more tasty than Dragon Fruit. I get it from a neighbor’s cactus plant but have never seen them sold in stores. If I did, I would buy a case..it is that delicious!!

  • Epi Rodriguez

    I’m from Central Texas. Going to Mexico every year since I was little, the tunas (prickley pears) were a great treat! What they do to get them clean, is to lay them out and brush them with escoba, which is the weeds they use to make old school brooms. They would brush them till they fell off. Of course there would still be a few left, but if you handled them correctly, when cutting them, you won’t get the small thorns on you. You can use a glove, but noone I know uses one. Then we just ate them like apples, seeds and all. Never heard of making juice or jelly, and we’ve gone to all parts of Mexico and eaten them. And yes if they are super ripe, as in really soft on the outside, they are practically rotten, not a good taste.

  • Easy Barber

    PRICKLY PEAR JUICE:
    First, put the freshly picked fruits into a wire colander, and shake briskly under running water, to rremove the glochids (those little spines that are such a nuicance).
    Prepare the fruit as explained above (I blanch it first). For every quart of fruit, add a quart of water. Bring to a boil, stir in 3/4 c. sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. lemon juice. Boil only long enough to dissolve sugar. Let cool. Poor liquid thru cheesecloth; spoon the rest into a blender (set to “puree”), then pour this thru cheesecloth, too. Chill & drink!
    A 5-gallon bucket of fruits will yield 2-3 gals. of juice. I fill clean plastic jugs (2-qt. juice jugs or 1-gal. milk jugs) about 2/3 full & freeze them.

  • Kathryn

    Wow, these are all great suggestions! I have a prickly pear cactus in my yard here in North Carolina, in fact I just got through with making a batch of jelly (and I have a half cup of juice left, which explains why I’m surfing websites looking for recipes). I’ve always peeled the fruit, and I’ve found that a pair of dishwashing gloves keeps the invisible spines at bay. I may have to try the method to burn the spines off, since I’m sure I lose a lot of juice by taking off all the skin.

    One question: it was mentioned in the article and a few of the comments that the seeds are edible, or could be pureed in a food processor with the fruit. The seeds in the fruits I grow are rock hard, they’d crack your teeth if you tried to chew them. Is it possible that I’m not letting the fruit ripen enough, or are North Carolina prickly pears a different variety?

    It could be the variety, or perhaps the prickly pears are too ripe. You can possibly push the prickly pear fruit through a food mill to get rid of the seeds. ~Elise

  • Jeff

    Thanks for the information in this post.

    I want to add some to the pureed fruit to an American wheat beer, or maybe a Belgian wit (I don’t know the Belgian word for pink.) and see what happens. A local brewpub made an American wheat with prickly pear last year for breast cancer awareness. It had a nice flavor, although it was a bit pulpy.

  • Steve

    I live in Texas where the prickly pear cactus is about as common as Kudzu is in the south. Out here we have a device called a pear burner that we use to burn the spikes off the cacti; they’re not too hard to fabricate and they make it a whole lot easier to harvest the fruit. For people who don’t want to go to the trouble of making a pear burner, I would recommend picking up a Bernz-O-Matic at any hardware store. Of course, if its as dry where you are as it is in Texas right now, I wouldn’t recommend doing anything that involves lighting a match! The pears do, however, make great jellies and jams. I haven’t tried any other recipes, but am sure to do so in the near future. Never had a Mojito, but the above recipe sounds great.

  • davd

    I hear a lot of people are just after the juice. Is it ok to use a juice machine after you peel them?

    I don’t own one so I can’t say. ~Garrett

    • lee smith stlouis

      hi, yes ! I have a juicer which I always use for my prickly pear

  • Talbot

    I just want to be totally clear. When extracting the juice, it’s okay to also blend the seeds? They don’t impart a bitterness to the juice? I love cactus pears, but I have trouble eating them because I try to eat around the seeds!

    You’ll strain the seeds out, so no worries. ~Garrett

  • Dorothy Perkins

    To Josh: I got them in Whole Foods in MA. This is a Texas chain so you should be able to get them there.

  • Richard in south Texas

    I pick the “Tunas” with a pair of channel lock pliers. Using my Bar-B-Que fork, I singe the spines off on the side burner of my Bar-B-Que pit.
    The best way I have found to get the juice is to put them in a blender and puree them. Then pour them in a panty hose leg (new not used). Do not wring it. Hang the panty hose leg up and let the juice drain into a bowl or pan. All you will get is the juice.

  • Delva E. Brown

    This fruit is new to me. Could you please tell me if it is good for curing any ailment. I was told that it is good for fibroids, is this true?

    We haven’t heard of any connection between prickly pears and fibroids. I would consult your doctor for advice. ~Garrett

  • waltc

    We live in NE Wyoming and a friend has them growing in his yard. I didn’t know they grew this far north.

    Any way, they never use them (didn’t even know they could) so we will be picking all of theirs this year (2011). We were wondering if anyone has tried juicing the pears using a steam juicer? Since we both prefer jelly to jam, that’s how we do most of our fruit juice.

    We also have a juicer machine that adds pulp to the juice but takes out the skin and seeds. We use this machine for our tomato and apricot juices since we like the pulp.

    Has anyone tried these methods of juicing them?

  • calsurf13

    The green and red prickly pears are actually two different species. The green ones are a typical fruit eaten in Mexico, they are also sweet, the color has nothing to do with the ripeness. Choose a ripe prickly pear like you would choose an avocado, firm but give to the touch a bit.

  • Lakyn

    We have prickly pears all over upstate South Carolina. They start green and then turn this deep purple, almost black. They’re still fruit firm though. Is it just a crazy SC thing, is it a certain type of cactus, are they still ok to eat? BTW, there’s a restaurant/hotel thing in Phoenix that has amazing champagne prickly pear jelly.

  • KG

    Though we have lived in Southern New Mexico for several years, we are new to eating the prickly pear fruits. We have just now noticed the birds eating our prickly pear fruits (it is the first week in October), so we assumed they had just now ripened. However, the posts here indicate picking them earlier in the year. Do you think it is too late to pick and use our prickly pear fruits this season?

    You’ll have to eat it and see. ~Garrett

  • Michael Hughes

    My girl friend has some prickly pear in her back yard. We live in eastern Washington. Is the fruit going to be the same as in the southwest?

    It should be just fine. ~Garrett

  • Meg

    We made jam last year: http://mostlyphotos.wordpress.com/2009/08/29/prickly-pear-jam. This year we picked a bunch of fruits, washed them, then froze them. The next morning, we put the fruits in a colander lined with cheese cloth, as the fruits thaw they turn to mush, the juice just starts dripping out of them. With a little smushing you have juice galore. To be on the safe side we ran the juice through a coffee filter. Then I froze most of the juice in icecube trays for later use, the rest I made into syrup.

  • Nancy from Tucson

    Hello! I used your site tonight to aid me in my first attempt at juicing prickly pear fruits. They are ripe and beautifully purple right now in Tucson, AZ! I discovered an even better way to get the fruit out that I wanted to share. If you slice the fruits in half lengthwise, you can then scoop out the fruit with a grapefruit spoon! It was SO easy! I recommend giving it a shot. You don’t even need to cut the ends off or peel them at all.

    Cheers,
    Nancy

  • Bob Patterson

    I pick the Tunas or Pears every year.. Here in Abilene there are two varieties. One in which the tunas are red and one that is dark purple and very large. The last is the variety that I use.
    Here is my procedure for picking. Wearing a heavy pair of rubber gloves and using a ice tongs pull the tunas off the bush and wipe all over with a heavy coarse cloth and place in your bucket.
    When I get them home I cut off the blossom scar. Wash thoroughly in cold water being careful as they will stain your countertop a beautiful reddish purple. I then place the tunas in a pot and simmer them to remove the juice and strain with an old tee shirt or paint bag.
    I use the juice to make prickly pear jelly and syrup for waffles and hot cakes. This makes some of the most delicious syrup you have ever tasted. I use lemon juice in the syrup or jelly.

    A little of the juice added to Jalapeno jelly in the cooking process makes a beautiful delicious red-purple jelly for breakfast. Here in Abilene they grow wild in the fence rows and the birds seem to be the only one that eat them.

  • sandy

    The pears I picked in Arizona stay green near the base and have a bitter taste. Is there a way to get rid of the bitter taste. I just picked these yesterday, do the pears get bitter if you pick them to late in the season.

    I have never experienced the bitter taste you’re talking about. I would say that you should pick them when there is no green. You may have picked some late fruit that wasn’t ready yet. ~Garrett

  • Grant Trakka Higgins

    The prickly pear juice is great drizzled over vanilla ice cream!

  • Paul Hale

    These fruits are abundant in western Queensland Australia at present 29th Jan 2010. They are the red variety when ripe, stopped to taste a few, yes got bit too. Devilishly hard to get rid of tiny thorns. The gas burner on them is the story to get rid of thorns. Had one did not use it!! the fruit is similar to very old fruit of the pomegranite. You can just pick and squeeze the juice and pips out of one end, being careful not to get prickel barbs on ones lips and tongue!! Yes, go prepared with gloves. Soaking in water sounds OK too. Heaps on the side of the road in Australia at present. Back in the 1930’s was a rampant pasture pest covering a great deal of farming land. The Govt got rid of it by introducing a beetle that ate the fruit from the inside, they are still active today and not such a great pest now.
    Fruit sold in markets and are farmed by a few for the fruit. Very expensive to buy in the selected fruiterers. Good info on here. Good hunting.

  • BobinCleveland

    I originally had the prickly pear as a margarita in a bar down on the river walk in San Antonio. Have not heard of it since. Was in the a local discount grocery called Marc’s here in Cleveland and saw the Prickly Pear, the thing with Marc’s is they MAY never have it again. So I bought a couple and accidentally pealed it like it explains above, lucky me. I tasted a small slice, and found the seeds annoying, grabbed a small strainer and pressed the two pear meat through the strainer with a bowl underneath until just the seeds remained in the strainer. Don’t have the booze around, so I used Canada Dry Diet Ginger Ale and three teaspoons of the juice, it foams up really good, so start small, added more ginger ale and ice, MAN is that GOOD…… But still wish I had the margarita instead. Can’t mess up making the juice, it’s easy and worth the few minutes. Made more juice than I expected.

  • Jinny

    Great Information! I am curious to know when the pears/tunas are ripe to pick? Also, can you freeze the “pulp” or the entire pear/tuna?

    I would imagine so. ~Garrett

  • Josh

    I love prickly pear but after moving from Texas I can’t find the fruit for sale anywhere, anyone know a online provider or contact info for a place that ships it? If so I would be most grateful!

  • roberto

    How do you get rid of the tiny little barbs that get stuck on your fingers or palms after handling these fruits. I have heard that rubbing these parts on your hair may eliminate them but I wouldn’t mind another antidote.

    Tweezers and patience. ~Garrett

  • Donna

    I found a recipe for prickly pear pickles, but I am not sure if I should use ripe pears, or green ones. It is a dill recipe? Has anyone tried these or have any hints?

  • Billy

    How do you eat the seeds? Do you chew them or swallow them whole? I wonder how much potassium is in one or say, a 1/2 cup serving.

    Just chew them. =) ~Garrett

  • Alfred

    Safe way to peel prickly pears:

    Soak them in a pail of water for about an hour.

    Take the pail by the handle and swirl it left and right and left and right a few times. This will cause the pears to rub against each other losing the thorns.

    Dump water and rinse. I normally use the shower head and sprinkle them with cold water.

    They are now safe to handle.

    Eating many prickly pears can cause constipation. Best is to drink water after eating them.

    I love them and eat quite a few of them.

  • Margaret

    Though I’ve never had a prickly pear I have a recipe for “cactus pear butter” that I’d like to try. However, there is a typo in the book and there is no absolutely indication as to how much sugar to use–it’s not even in the ingredients list, though halfway through the recipe the directions say “add the sugar”. The only ingredients are prickly pears, tart apples, honey, and sugar. Does anyone out there have this recipe and if so how much sugar would it take? I’d also settle for an educated guess as I’m new to making jelly and preserves and haven’t the vaguest idea how I’d guesstimate how much sugar to use.

    Oh, and I have to say the prickly pear lemonade sounds intriguing!

    • David Ely

      I would first suggest just adding to taste. Another option is to use the same proportions as you would find in a similar recipe. I’m curious about the honey your going to use. If I were making this I would contact the Bee Guy in Bisbee, Az. He collects and sells killer bee honey and forget about the sugar. Depending on the time of year he might have desert wildflower honey or a mixed blend from hives found near citrus orchards. He always has mesquite honey in stock, this is the one I’ld use. If you have never had killer bee honey your in for a treat! It is of superior quality to domestic bees and he does not adulterate his products with any additives of any kind including corn syrup which you may likely get in store bought brands. Please let me know how it comes out. I’m going to try my hand at making brandy or prickly pear Jack in the next couple weeks. I have a small army of teenagers who have volunteered to pick fruit for me!

  • Terri Denis in Arizona

    I’ve been harvesting prickly pear tunas every August for about 30 years. Here’s the “no peel” method I use for preparing juice for the freezer. It works fine for drinks, punch, and jelly.

    Out in the back yard take your bucket of tunas and rinse them thoroughly with the garden hose. Using tongs, transfer them to a large pot. Put this on the stove and add a couple of cups of water to the pot. Cook the tunas–stickers and all.

    When the fruit is tender, smash it all up with a potato masher. Set a colander over another pot and line it with an old, clean t-shirt. Pour in the mashed fruit.

    After most of the juice has strained out, gather the ends of the cloth together to contain the peels. Press out as much juice as you can with the potato masher. Trash the t-shirt filled with cactus peels and stickers. Clean the first pot and set the colander over it. Line it with another sheet of t-shirt. Pour the strained juice through this to catch any remaining cactus slivers. I promise that none will come through this final straining. Trash the cloth.

    You can freeze this juice as is, or flavor it to taste. I freeze some plain and some with lime and sugar. (I gotta have a Cactus Margarita with the Christmas Eve Tamales). I’ve used this juice for up to a year after freezing it.

  • Michelle

    I live in South America and our Tunas are mostly green, by the time they turn any other colour (like red or brown) is because they’re already rotten. They have a lovely taste similar to green melons, that’s why we call those melon: melon tuna.

    Talking about tunas, peel them with a knife and a fork and you won’t have a problem with the thorns.

  • Steve

    My father-in-law introduced me to these sweet fruit. I will pick them by the bucket full with gloves but to peel them the trick is to SOAK IN WATER for 30 min. this softens the prickles so they don’t penetrate your soft skin. It makes it so much easier to peel them gloveless.

  • Amanda

    My grandmother in New Mexico used to make a jam with the prickly pears (we called them tunas) she grew in her back yard.

    I was never able to get her to write it down but this was base of it and what I use (an altered recipe from online):

    4 cups prickly pear juice
    4 1/2 cups sugar
    1 tablespoon of lemon juice
    lemon zest
    2 packages of powdered pectin

    Follow the pectin manufacturer’s directions for adding ingredients. Stir frequently. Bring to a very hard boil for three minutes. Pour the jam into sterilized jars and seal them as you normally would while canning.

  • Hank

    Thanks for this! I have never worked with prickly pears and was never interested in them…until I moved to California and before I realized that the Sicilians grow them, too.

    Now I am looking for Mediterranean prickly pear recipes. Anyone?

  • Teri Gunderson

    Here in Oaxaca, Mexico we eat a lot of “TUNA” or prickly pear. Depending on the variety they are green inside, deep red, or even gray (the outside of the gray ones are a beautiful magenta)
    I use them to top a pavlova, a cheesecake, or as a fruit garnish. Since berries and kiwi are expensive here – Tuna are a great substitute.
    The leaves of the plant – nopales – are a major food here – they are very good for you and delicious – some people don’t like the “slimy” feel to them – so put them in soup. Look for recipes for both in Suzanna Trillings’ cookbook of Oaxaca “Seasons of my Heart”. What a great plant – with practically no water & not instecticide you get vitamin C, great fruit, healthy veggie.

  • Sunny South Texas

    My daughter picks these (growing wild) and we singe the little hairy stickers off over the gas stove burner. (Stick a fork in it and you can twirl it like a marshmallow over the flame!)

    She peels them and eats them like an apple. Beware: They’ll turn your fingers a lovely shade of purple.

    Nice to see them spotlighted on your site!

    Warm regards,
    Sunny South Texas

  • Elise

    Hi Ryan,

    What a great trick! Garrett got these prickly pears already de-prickled, but even then I got zapped a couple of times. Would you mind sharing how you make your prickly pear jam? Sounds fabulous.

  • Geoff

    I’ve also seen the pads for sale in some grocery stores, and they are far more abundant if foraging for them. Can you describe the cleaning process (with that large flat surface), flavor, and give some recipe ideas for those too? Thx!

    The paddles have a sort of tart green bean/asparagus-ish flavor. As for recipes here’s a great Food Blog Search that should help. As for cleaning them, refer to this GourmetSleuth guide. ~Garrett

    • Ed D. Vasquez

      Grab the “Younger/Smaller Leaves/Pads” with some sturdy tongs and scrap them WELL with a Straight-Edged knife. You can then slice them up into small strips or even cube them and mix with scrambled eggs, onions, and bell pepper for One Fantastic Breakfast. Add Bacon if you have the need for Cholesterol as I do. It isn’t good if it isn’t bad for you ! He-he

      edv7028 Seguin, Texas; USA (Ardent Cactus Lover !)

      P.S.

      The Prickly Pears, in their Red State, will fix diarrhea QUICKLY… A Miracle !!!

      Ed

      • Ed D. Vasquez

        P.P.S.
        Those tiny little white, black, or red bugs you may find crawling all over the pad are the source for cochineal dye that the Aztecs/Mayans used for their fabulous deep-red color.

  • 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.

    AG

  • 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