How to Cut and Prepare Prickly Pears

ProduceDrinkHow ToCactus

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

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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

What is Prickly Pear Fruit?

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

How to Use Prickly Pear

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 from prickly pear to flavor cream cheese frosting for a lime flavored cupcake, and have seen others boil cactus pear down with a bit of orange and lemon juice to make a sauce for fruit salads and cheesecakes.

Prickly Pear fruit - how to prepare

Where to Get Prickly Pear

Many Mexican markets, farmers markets, and some natural food supermarkets carry prickly pear fruit, but you can find cactus pear growing in California, the Southwest, Mexico, and the Mediterranean.

Be warned though, while the prickly pear 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 prickly pear carefully or with gloves just in case.

How to Cut and Prepare Prickly Pears

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Ingredients

  • 1 prickly pear

Method

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

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

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

4 Peel back the skin: 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.

5 Extract the juice: To extract the prickly pear 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.

Links:

Prickly pear cactus mojito by Feed Your Vegetarian

Tuna Juice from Rambling Spoon (prickly pear is also called tuna)

Prickly Pear Juice

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Garrett McCord

Garrett McCord is a professional writer and recipe developer whose work has appeared in many print and online publications such as Gourmet Live, Saveur, Huffington Post, Smithsonian, and NPR. Past clients also include numerous food companies, wineries, and distilleries. Garrett writes about cocktails on his website, Coupe de Grace.

More from Garrett

74 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  • Joseph J Shaw

    I think this is a great article about Prickly Pear fruit. It shows exactly how to peel the fruit, a task that intimidates some people. I am well familiar with Prickly Pears and have a Web site about them. There are 90 varieties in the USA.

  • Carl

    /Best Margarita I ever had was fresh prickly pear in Sedna some 25 years ago.

    I’m no expert, but I prefer the magenta(?) colored to the yellow. My experience in blending/processing with seeds produced a bitter juice. Take the time to press pulp & lease seeds behind.

  • Martha

    My dad used to singe them in the campfire to get the tiny, OUCHY, (ask me how I know) needles off. It isn’t long enough to cook the fruit but just long enough to burn the ouchies off.
    Where I grew up, New Mexico, they were all over the place and we camped often.

  • Linda

    I just throw them in a pot with a little water and boil them for about 10 minutes. Then smash it through a sieve. There isn’t no need to scrub off the needles. They dissolve when you cook them.

  • Sandy

    I’m patiently waiting for my prickly pears to arrive from AZ, a friend is sending….I’m certain I’ll be making margaritas!!

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Cactus Pear or prickly pear fruit on cutting boardHow to Cut and Prepare Prickly Pears