Introduction: How to Pick and Eat Prickly Pear Cactus

Picture of How to Pick and Eat Prickly Pear Cactus

Step by step instructions for going about safely picking and eating Prickly Pear Cactus.

Step 1: Locate a Fruiting Prickly Pear Cactus

Picture of Locate a Fruiting Prickly Pear Cactus

Native to the arid south, Prickly Pear is an easily distinguishable plant. Often adorned with the red/purple fruits atop the pears and for brief periods, beautiful flowers atop of those. Pay attention to the pictures. Although this tutorial is geared towards the fruit, the pads are also quite edible and a staple food for many communities.

Step 2: Do Not Touch! Yet...

Picture of Do Not Touch! Yet...

Notice the arsenal of nasty spines that usually accompany cactus. Though painful in their own right the visible thorns do hurt... but the tiny hairs that look like white nubs/dots upon the fruit are the real danger (called glochids). If touched, dozens if not hundreds of near microscopic spines will embed into the skin and will most likely result in day upon day of frustrated scratching/picking to pull them out one by one as they fester.

Tip: If you do end up touching these... I along with others are judging you. Also, you can usually use tape to pull the majority of these out.

Step 3: You'll Need One of These

Picture of You'll Need One of These

This is a Pear Burner and is used to singe the thorns and "de-claw" cactus/fruit. The orange hose is attached to a propane tank, my left hand by squeezing controls the on demand output of the flame, the red knob near the grip controls the continuous bleed of propane that maintains a lit flame when not on full torch.

Note: This is a fun yet dangerous tool. Please make sure to read all directions and take care not to light the forest on fire.

Step 4: Time to Torch It

Picture of Time to Torch It

Point the torch end at the fruit, squeeze the grip and flame the hate off of that cactus! Apply to all sides. This can take just 3-4 seconds... but to be sure I usually give it a good 10+. Once this has been accomplished the fruit should not pose any further threat.

Step 5: Pick the Fruit Cut or Twist Off

Picture of Pick the Fruit Cut or Twist Off

As you can see, the spines are all gone. At this point you can either cut the fruit off (what I'm doing in the picture) or twist/break it off of the pad. The more ripe you find the fruit, the easier it is to pull it off without a knife.

Step 6: Cut Into It and Enjoy!

Picture of Cut Into It and Enjoy!

There are two camps on how to go about doing this. I myself usually just cut down the center and eat it off the skin as seen in the pictures above. The more visually appealing method is to peel the skin off as you would an apple taking a knife and cutting strips away until none remain. One way or another, you have your prize.

There are seeds inside, crunchy but swallow-able if done in small quantities. The taste reminds me of raspberries, sweet and tangy. Take care of what you touch while doing this as the purple colored juice will stain everything you hold dear.

Step 7: Watch This Video to See How It's Done

Not a step, but if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video ought to be worth at least a thousand pictures. Click on the video above to see how it's done.

Check out my YouTube Channel to see more Videos like this one: HorseBackBob

Update: Upon reading the comments section, there seems to be a great deal of curiosity and some concern as to the effects of this flame upon the pads of the cactus. If they had survived or are lost in this process. They are usually fine, though the cows can now chew on them and often will. I'll post an update in mid-March when I get back out there to that plant to take photos so that there is a definite answer to this question.

THANK YOU ALL for the viewership. I'll be posting more and making more quality instructibles over the coming months. All ideas welcome.


Extemporaneous11 (author)2015-02-02

Cool idea, but if any of my grandparents saw me do this this, my most likely outcome would have been a line of family ready to swat my butt. On the reservation, if they saw you using that for fruit, they would chase you off then ban you from coming back. Have a trusty bucket with you and get a grease wood branch that "Y"s off. Go directly under the fruit and turn 90 degrees. should plop right into the bucket. To get to goodness, all you need is a small knife, spoon, and a pot or bowl. Cut just enough to pass the skin. Then take your spoon and scrap along the skin and plop into your bowl/pot.

Very few people on the reservation make traditional jam. My great grandmother would put it in a pot and boil it. the fibers and seeds would float to the top. She would ladle whatever floated to the top and put on a cloth. Once the fiber and seeds were dried she would use it for chicken feed. the liquid the pot would be used for juice, wine, jams, and candies. Most times it would everything in the jam. Kind of like a fig jam.

My father showed me this one cactus that is very small and produces these tiny red fruit. the size of raisin, but taste like a chili. wild onions are good too, mesquite bean pods are yummy too, especially when they have that purple color to them.

Just getting hungry now LOL

lbrewer42 (author)2015-01-28

But... Baloo says we are supposed to "use the claw!"

Sriously, I could not beleive how hardy this plant is. I lived in the snow belt of Lake Erie. My neighbor grew Prickly Pear in his ornamental garden. Imagine a cactus that can gown in a climate where there is normally up to 6 months of snow! But I never saw them get large. The pads generally stayed around 4-5 inches and were low to the ground.

HorseBackBob (author)lbrewer422015-01-28

Haha, there are so many different kinds of Prickly Pear out there. Many with their own colors, sizes, and tastes. We have recently had one of the worst ice storms in memory come thru the area. Some did well, some such as the cow tongue prickly pear might have died back for good. Big plants that I've grown up watching all gone in a night.

lbrewer42 (author)HorseBackBob2015-01-28

About three years ago I got a dream come true (will also tell how different a person I am). I habe lived in PA most of my life, and have enjoyed survival camping. I always wanted to try being out in the desert by myself and... believe it or not... try some prickly pear (pads). I admit I never thought about there being more than one major variety and feel a little dumb for that since this is obviously the case with all other plants/animals! But now you have me wanting to try a variety of them. I am sure they are much better than the stuff you get in jars!

I frequent the west now more that a son live out there... maybe some day...

HorseBackBob (author)lbrewer422015-01-28

Sounds good. Just give a hollar. For the past year an a half I've begun the journey of methodically tasting cactus pads as well as the pears when I find them in season of each plant I come across. Driving around, even in peoples alleys here in the west you'll find all kinds of prickly pear. I now harvest a few pads off of the plants and varieties that taste the best and am replanting them on my property as I go. Kindof a diferent twist on a cactus garden : )

lbrewer42 (author)HorseBackBob2015-01-28

The word envy is swimming around inside my head :^))

As I know you will... enjoy the adventure - it sure would be fun!

DDW_OR (author)2015-01-27

the fruit is good to eat, but has a LOT OF SEEDS that are as hard as gravel.

for a snack while hiking I use my knife to peal the fruit while it is on the Nopales.

- the flower for my Profile is a hedgehog cactus. the photo does not do
it justice. a real flower is so bright it almost blinds you.

HorseBackBob (author)DDW_OR2015-01-27

Beautiful flowers. Will have to post some of this type when they come around. Can you eat those blossoms?

DDW_OR (author)HorseBackBob2015-01-27

Looks like hedgehog cactus may be edible

here is a photo of a Prickly Pear flower

Tangski (author)2015-01-27

Cool! !wish we had them that big here! But, alas, we only get little ones...I would love to try that pod one day! I bet the jam/jelly from this is great, as you can cook them to get the juice without having the seeds to boot! Survival is an important skill. Thriving in it is key. This certainly adds to the 'thrive' factor, as sugar foods help lift moral- not to mention energy:).

Thanks for the tip buddy, and look forward to more you may have! Loved the video too. Well done!



HorseBackBob (author)Tangski2015-01-27

Might be able to mail you a few pads to get your own stand started. It's resilient, moderate to high humidity and thriving in the sandy well draining soil on my property.

Tangski (author)HorseBackBob2015-01-27

Well, they would not get past the boarder unfortunately...customs you know!LOL There is a cross boarder plant law due to unwanted hitch hikers like insects in plants and some diseases. Our severe cold drops here in winter here in Southern Alberta (can get to -45 below, even when we get Chinook winds, sometimes we can get a change in temp as must as -20 to plus 10 in less than 8 hours! This week we made it up to +20 wow...however, it will also get down to -12 on the weekend with some snow. It just does not grow here as it does in your part of the world...sigh...but hey, I can enjoy what I see there:) We are semi arid in summer, but not humid enough for these to get very big. The ones here can only grow to be about 8 -12 " tall, and are very small. The berries off of them are very good however, even though they too have a lot of seeds. They are yellow inside, not red.

Cheers and keep up the great preparedness tips. It really can help us all to be more healthy to live on foods that supplement our diets with natural goodies for our bodies.

Take care! I will look for more of your tips!:)

texastanker13 (author)2015-01-27

Burning prickly pear cactus like that does not kill the cactus. During droughts we do this to the whole cactus for the cows to munch on too. It has an amazing ability to regrow from just a single pad

rookie1 (author)2017-03-16

If you get those needles in your skin, warm up wax and when it is tolerable spread the wax on the spot. When it cools, peal it off pulls them out.

thelobster (author)2016-09-17

Are you bear grylls

wowashlyn (author)2016-07-13

i dont own a Pear Burner, so i've just put on a pair of leather gloves and cut them off with a knife, and then peel them likewise. works pretty well!

headache (author)2016-05-29

Growing up in Texas my mom always had a ton of prickly pear. They are delicious. They remind me of a kiwi with a milder flavor.

XavierO6 (author)headache2016-06-21

In any part of Mexico, exceot the coast and the jungle, the Nopales grow as a natural plant, any boy can harvest them without these instruments.

XavierO6 (author)2016-06-21

A ver gringos, no puedo creer que caigan en la necesidad de quemar el nopal y la tuna, en mi país México, simplemente con un machetazo los cortamos y los guardamos en una canasta, se le quita la piel y te los comes, yo eh hecho eso 100... veces y no me he espinado mas que las primeras veces, aparte si las quemas le quitas su sabor, Gringos locos, y el nopal o el cacti como lo llamen también se come y es delicioso.

aviram (author)2015-10-10

As a sabra, growing up in Israel, we attached a tin can near the end of a broom handle. so that the tin can is at 90 degrees, forming an "L" with the handle the long side, and the can the short side.

You then put the tin can over the fruit, so that the fruit is inside, and twist the fruit off, so that the can's opening stays up. For stubborn fruits, a knife attached to another stick will do the trick...

The fruit will stay in the can, and you just dump it into a bucket.

The handle will also extend your reach into the cactus, so you can pick the fruits in the center of the plant

Roll the fruit in sand, which will remove most of the hair like spines (glochids)

To peel use a fork through the skin to pierce and hold the fruit, then with a sharp knife cut off both ends (one where the flower was, the other where it was attached to the plant), cut a shallow longitudinal cut from one end to the other, only cutting through the peel, then slide the knife under the peel and go around with the knife between the peel and the fruit releasing the peel from the fruit, no fingers required...

Сергей (author)2015-09-20


TheCrafter101 (author)2015-09-18

oh, and do you need to cook it?

Nope, it's absolutely amazing he way it is. Even though it looks like I've torched it hot, the inside was still as cold as a snow cone, it is awesome.

TheCrafter101 (author)2015-09-18

why can you not take it off with a stick and collect it in a bucket, then somehow put them on a fire to get the spinse off?

I could, or get a big magnifying glass and spend a few hours burning the spines off, or become a genetic engineer in order to create a species of prickly pear without spines, or I could go to the grocery store... The point is, the torch is called a pear burner here in Texas, and every rancher has more than a few of them in the barn. We use the torches to burn the spines off of the pads so that the cattle and wildlife have something to eat in times of drought and hardship. Cactus grows like grass on our properties, so management must happen, thought I'd share a piece of our daily grind so to speak.

John_the_Builder (author)2015-04-26

Prickly Pears are very good eating. We used to buy and eat them all the time in Italy. Nice flavor if you don't mind the seeds.

LawrenceF1 (author)2015-02-24

Extemporaneous11 has it right! . And i say Killing the Cactus to get the fruit is ridiculous and unnecessary. Applying heat like that is ridiculous and the plant will surely suffer. And the cactus fur/prickers will boil off into a harmless fiber. Just do as the man says,Pick and boil and leave the torch and heavy tank at home !

seakrakken (author)LawrenceF12015-03-18

Cool your jets, I once tried to eradicate a stand of prickly pear cactus. I dug a pit, then chopped it all down, then I threw it all in the pit and poured 5 gallons of gasoline over it. I lit it on fire and let it burn. It did not kill the cactus and it sprang up growing out of the pit that summer like a phoenix!

LawrenceF1 (author)seakrakken2015-03-18

HahahaHa! too much. yeah , impossible to kill cactus for sure....was just thinking it wouldn't look too pretty, my cactus are all around my yard! Thats what i get for living in Tucson! ,cheers!

kingofrepairs (author)2015-01-27

Wearing leather gloves to pick the fruit, taking them home or to campsite, skewering the fruit & singeing the nasties off over a campfire, stove burner or propane torch seems an easier way to me than lugging the big torch & propane bottle to the site of the cacti.

nillo (author)kingofrepairs2015-03-05

That sounds like a good way to ruin a pair of leather gloves. Glochids are nasty. After ruining a bunch of gloves, I finally picked up some scraps of thick leather. I use them like oven pads. Plus I wear leather gloves, and have the 'bad' side of the leather scrap marked. Regret is grabbing the wrong side of that.

That would seem logical... unless you've had experience with those little thorns. Give it a try.

Cindy.Shephard (author)2015-03-04

Hey thanks, I've wondered how to go about preparing these things! :)

It's certainly the easiest way if you are harvesting a great deal of them. I'm going to try and run them through a juicer this next season to see what I can come up with. Prickly Pear wine?

glenda.gonser (author)2015-03-03

your title is misleading, yours is about only eating the nopals or fruits of this cacti. where do you talk about eating the prickley pear itself. the pads or the actual cactus dinner plate sized leaves of this plant?

i agree, use some tongs, wear leather gloves in case one touches your hand as you are grabbing a nopal with your tongs. then drop them in a plastic bucket, use same tongs to hold the nopals over the gas stove burner long enough to burn them off or use any of the methods talked about here. if you gather them and fire them all up in this manner, hope you intend to use all of those and not just waste half of that. in reality you should make sure and leave a good portion for the plant to be shared with others, unless you have it growing on your own private land.

i usually find them on empty lots and ask land owner if they care if we gather the nopals. i have planted and was growing a privacy hedge and they grew two years but either someone has poisoned them or winter killed all ours of last year as we now do not have any there in the row where I planted these huge dinner plate sized prickley pears. so I gathered some more and put them in a large 20 gallon planter in my yard so I can monitor their growth as in a different planter and a smaller prickley pear is growing and producing nopals, whereas the big ones had never produced nopals in the three years they were there, but they did keep critters from entering our property from that side of property, they had to go around to come in and where we could see them coming into the yard, to get our chickens. so i hope that they do come back if mother nature was what killed them. if not, guess that if someone poisoned them, they would have to come up in our actual yard to get to the ones in our 20 gallon plastic black pots to poison these. time will tell, on to finding out how to use the flat leaves of the cacti to eat.

...There are quite a few plants here in Texas that are edible in their entirety, but that we usually just eat the annual fruits made from them. A later instructable will be made showing the proper way to consume the rest of this plant will be posted in a few months. As for being :"wasteful," I imagine this comes from an ignorance of what Texas is about and an assumption as to where I am and what I do. I'm a biologist, a Biologist that owns a Ranch that spans section after section full of such cacti. I torch a number of these plants each year to allow the cattle and Javelina to eat upon them in the coldest part of winter. I manage the land, instead of poisoning or plowing them under as they take over fields and roads, I give back to it. I actually have a grove of several types of agave, and of different prickly pear specifically for human consumption.

CatTrampoline (author)2015-02-23

Good tip for dealing with the glochids. We had a bumper crop of prickly pear in central Texas this year, but I knew better than to mess with the fruit unarmed. Next year I'll try picking with tongs and then toasting the hairs off the fruit with a propane torch.

The torch certainly helps, but conditions must be right to make sure that wildfires occur... which is always a concern here in Texas of late. Be safe and enjoy your cacti!

JesusG33k (author)2015-02-22

Much simpler than what my father and I used to do, we used to just carefully grab them, and cut the spines off when we got home. Great method, especially since it involves <strong><em>FIRE!</em></strong>

Thanks for sharing!


jsadler1 (author)2015-02-20

I once had a security hedge to keep people out of my lawn. When it came time to remove the hedge I found out that if you use a machete to chop cactus you had better wear good eye protection and heavy gloves. A slap with a machete can cause the cactus leaf to act like a spring board sending spines back at its attacker. My hedge actually put three people in the emergency room. I felt bad for one old guy who was learning to ride his three wheel bicycle and plowed into the hedge. He would have done better trying to eat a live porcupine.

Mihsin (author)2015-02-19

This an innovative way to treat the nasty thornes (I'm living with a scar of which). However, torching cacti plant like that is out of question. We pick the fruit by a long stickhaving a pin attached to the tip at 90 digrees (stab then twist the bottom part), then brush the fruit at the harvest sight with a bunch of leaves, brush or fine broom. Next, dip them in a bucket filled with water. Pick each with a utility rubber gloves and peel, then rinse and eat. We've been doing that since after the great flood. These fruits could cause severe constipation. To escape that, I'd recommend to sip water after each fruit. Do'nt eat alot of them.

HorseBackBob (author)Mihsin2015-02-19

We have entire fields of these, torching is the most efficient option when clearing or picking the plants. If we need to clear the area, we torch and let the cows and javelina eat the pears and fruit down to the root. The wildlife love them and its one of the most resilient renewable resources we have out here. Resilient and incredibly useful creature.

kferin (author)2015-02-09

If I had a torch and some prickly pear cacti nearby me, I'd make this a fairly frequent event. Thanks for the enlightenment!

HorseBackBob (author)kferin2015-02-09

I'm looking at seeing what kind of products I can make from it. I'm thinking that fruit leather might just work?

JohnnyMorales (author)2015-02-05

I love this video even though I don't care for cactus fruit in the least, because you just gave me the solution for dealing with two monstrous, truly evil, deceptively named cultivars of the cholla christmas cactus developed by Marquis de Sade which are covered with 1.5" thorns tipped with a chemical irritant that seem to have the ability to launch themselves into the air and deeply embed in a person's skin if he so much as looks at them wrong.

From what it looked like you can remove the thorns without killing the plant with the blow torch.

onemoroni1 (author)2015-02-01

I love this fruit! I get it at a local market. Years ago I tried to harvest some wild and didn't know about the burining. Boy was that a miserable experiece even though I got the fruit.

HorseBackBob (author)onemoroni12015-02-01

You might consider growing some of your own now that you've beat that learning curve : ) It's a pretty plant that can serve more than one use.

ronald11112222 (author)2015-02-01

I don't like exposing them to high heat (natural heat is okay) I usually pick them with thick gloves. After I take them home I put them in a net bowl (plastic or metal), keep a flow of tap water going on them and start shaking the bowl. They will lose all their small thorns and you will be left with smooth prickly pears. When you are done chop the top and bottom off and cut a vertical line through it. (Make sure you are wearing plastic gloves just in case) Put your two thumbs inside that line you made and pull out a bit, then you can easily peel it. Do the same for the rest and you will have some perfect prickly pears. If you want them to taste 1000x better put them in the fridge for an hour or two in a glass bowl.

DarnellMoonda (author)2015-01-31

Thank you for this information and the video! Will have to try this next year myself.

You'll be a believer. Remember, not all cacti taste the same.

About This Instructable



Bio: Just a former Biology Teacher that takes and makes opportunities to enjoy and learn outdoor skills. Have fun, respect nature, and if you've any ... More »
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