Have you ever wondered how to eat a prickly pear cactus fruit? The true name of this edible fruit is Opuntia, the common names are Prickly pear, cactus fruit, cactus pear, cactus fig, Indian figs, tuna (fruit not the fish), sabra, and nopal.
In this article, you will learn where prickly pear comes from, what the health benefits of prickly pear are, how to eat prickly pear, and what they taste like.
If you enjoy tasting new fruits, this is an awesome little fruit to try. On to the information!
Where do prickly pear cactus plants come from and where do they grow?
First of all, there are two main colors or types of prickly pear cactus fruit. The purple ones and the greenish-yellow ones.
They grow natively in hot arid climates, for example, they grow very well here in Arizona and the other Southwestern United States. We even have them growing on the side of the streets in town here where I live.
They grow really well in Mexico, which makes sense because they originated in the Americas. The fruit is commonly called tuna in Mexico, and Prickly pear here in the United States. They can be found in parts of South America, Australia, Bulgaria, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and the Middle East among other places. I probably left a few countries out, they are widespread across the world.
They are usually ripe enough to pick and eat from Late Summer through Fall.
What are the health benefits of prickly pear cactus fruit?
Some of the health benefits of prickly pear cactus fruit are:
- Full of antioxidants, with the deep purple ones containing the most antioxidants
- They support liver health
- They help to fight inflammation with anti-inflammatory properties
- Cactus fruits are high in vitamin C, Calcium, Magnesium, and Potassium
- Very low in calories, one fruit is only about 40 calories
- May reduce heart disease when added to the diet
- They are low in carbs and a good source of fiber
For more health benefits check out this article on prickly pear.
How to eat a prickly pear cactus fruit?
Now I will show you how to eat prickly pear cactus fruit.
First, if taken from the wild, you will notice there are several very sharp thorns/spines in the skin, that must be removed before handling them. Use kitchen tongs to pick them from the cactus don’t just grab them with your bare hands.
If you buy them from the supermarket, grocery stores, or Farmers markets, they should already be removed, but still be careful, they sometimes miss some of them.
One way to remove the hair-like spines is to wear leather thick gloves and then roll or rub the prickly pear in a paper towel, or a clean cloth, or use a rock and rub them off. Another thing you can do is burn them off with the open flame from a lighter. You could also try using a vegetable peeler.
If the thorns get stuck in your skin, they are really hard to get out. So make sure to remove them! And don’t bite into one with thorns, the last thing you want are thorns stuck on the inside of your mouth.
It is time to remove the skin. Although the skin is edible, I always remove it to be safe, that is a sure way of not eating any spines.
1. Cut the ends of the fruit off with a sharp knife on a cutting board.
2. Then slice the fruit lengthwise, about 1/8th to 1/4th of an inch deep. You should now be able to peel the skin off of the fruit with no problem.
You can easily compost the skin or throw it away.
3. Now all you need to do is slice up that fruit. Or again you can eat the skin but you may bite into the sharp spines and that is no fun.
Now you know how to eat prickly pear cactus fruit. You can eat them as is raw or they can be used in a number of dishes. They are very common in Mexican cuisine, they are used in appetizers, soups, fruit salad, salads, drinks, jelly, and jams. The prickly pear juice is used in a variety of drinks as well.
Also, I want to point out that the green prickly pear pads are also edible but take some preparation as well.
How to eat prickly pear cactus pads?
The edible pads need to be treated like the fruit. First, begin by removing the large spines and the small pines from the pad. Use a rock, knife, or fire to remove them.
Grip the pads with heavy gloves or use tongs. Once clean of any hairy spines (called glochids) you can eat it raw just like the fruit. They are commonly boiled, pickled, grilled, or cooked in a different way and eaten in a salad.
What does prickly pear cactus fruit taste like?
When you first bite into it you will notice there are very hard seeds, which you can eat or just spit out. If you are making jam or something you would just strain them. They will blend up fine if put into a smoothie.
They have a very mild sweet taste, depending on the variety and ripeness, some are sweeter than others. The texture reminds me of a mixture of a kiwi, pear, and watermelon. To me, it has a nice pleasant flavor. Some people describe the flavor as a cross between a watermelon and classic bubble gum.
Now that you know how to eat prickly pear, next time you get the opportunity, try one out!
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