How to Pick and Eat Prickly Pear Cactus




Introduction: How to Pick and Eat Prickly Pear Cactus

About: 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 ideas as to what you'd like me to demonstrate hit me up. Visi...

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

Step 1: 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...

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

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

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

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!

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.



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    113 Discussions

    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

    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.

    4 replies

    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.

    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...

    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 : )

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

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

    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.

    2 replies

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

    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!



    2 replies

    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.

    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!:)

    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

    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.

    Are you bear grylls

    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!

    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.

    1 reply

    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.

    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.


    2 years ago

    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...

    Sabres Fruit Prickly Pear Peeling.pngSabres Fruit Prickly Pear Peeling 2.pngSabres Fruit Prickly Pear Picking.png