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How to Prepare Prickly Pear

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Cacti are generally considered to be hostile, unfriendly plants. Which, frankly, is understandable. They're covered with spines, they grow in hostile, arid climates. Even the adjectives used to describe them are unpleasant.

But cacti want to be our friends. Once you get past their thorny exteriors, you find a soft, fleshy, and usually delicious heart. The succulent agave plant gives us tequila, and nightblooming Hylocereus cacti bear pitayas (which we know as dragonfruit). Even the stereotypical cactus of the cartoon world, the saguaro, produces an edible fruit. And then there's my personal favorite, the prickly pear.

Both the pads and the fruit of the prickly pear cactus are edible. The pads, called nopales or nopalitos, can be found canned in hispanic markets and in well-stocked grocery stores, or fresh at a good farmer's market. They're crunchy and slightly sticky (similar to okra), and taste fresh and green - like green beans, asparagus, and green pepper. They're great on pizza.

But we're here for the fruits.

The fruits can very in color and flavor depending on the cultivar of cactus they're harvested from. In my area (the southeastern US), I typically see red fruits, which have a delicate melon-like flavor with a texture similar to that of a kiwi. If I was to describe the flavor more quantitatively, I could cite studies which show the main odor-active compounds are similar to those found in cucumbers and melons. Unlike many fruits, they have a fairly low pH, meaning that you get the sweet without too much of the tart.

"So," I can hear you thinking, "what is it about these fruits that would justify me poking around a cactus?" I'm glad you asked!

Prickly pear fruits are rich in vitamin C, and colored by betacyanins, both of which are powerful antioxidants. They are a good source of fiber, and are high in calcium and magnesium.

Also, they're delicious.
 
 
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Always good to see others using native fruits like these. I really like adding cactus apple juice to mesquite for jelly and wine making. Great 'ible!
Mongpoovian (author)  barefootbohemian2 years ago
Thanks! I wish we had mesquite out here, that sounds fantastic.
Ichmawida2 years ago
can you also eat the whole fruit like for example pears or apples?
Mongpoovian (author)  Ichmawida2 years ago
I wouldn't recommend it. The skin is tough, and has a terrible texture.
okieinAZ2 years ago
My method of removing the glochids is to swish them between two 5-gallon buckets, half full of water. Dump them from one bucket to the other, repeatedly, till all the glochids are floating on the water's surface. Dump the water, refresh, repeat till glochids are not present. A little pea gravel helps the agitation process. I made prickly pear jam last summer.
I love the idea of freezing the juice in ice cube trays.
Thanks for the 'ible!
Mongpoovian (author)  okieinAZ2 years ago
That's a great idea! Flame-polishing them is fun, but not exactly efficient...
I live in Colorado, and what i always thought to be prickly pear is green. is it the same thing?
Mongpoovian (author)  Aldo The Apache2 years ago
Yes! The color of the pear can vary depending on the specific cultivar of the cactus. I have no idea how to tell if the green ones are ripe, though.
mygibzone2 years ago
Very interesting! I've never used them. What would you compare their flavor to? They remind me of beets when I see them. Cool. Thanks for sharing!
Mongpoovian (author)  mygibzone2 years ago
It's sort of hard to describe - a little like melon, a little like kiwi, a little like cucumber. It's much less tart than a kiwi.

For me, the color is almost as much of a draw as the flavor. Both the color and the flavor work pretty well in a margarita!
Hmmmm...a prickly margarita, very cool!
Awesome! I've always wanted to try these.
Mongpoovian (author)  jessyratfink2 years ago
Thanks! I'd highly recommend them!