How to Eat Prickly Pear, A.k.a. Cactus Fruit, A.k.a. Tunas





Introduction: How to Eat Prickly Pear, A.k.a. Cactus Fruit, A.k.a. Tunas

Prickly pears are delicious on the inside but vicious on the outside. Here's how to get past their prickly exterior and into their sweet, succulent soul. 

You'll need kitchen tongs, a sharp knife, a fork, a cutting board, a big bowl, a plate, and a food mill. 

You'll probably also want some tweezers or duct tape on hand to remove the inevitable hairy thorns that will get stuck in your skin despite your best efforts. 

Step 1: Use Tongs to Get the Prickly Pears Off the Cactus

The cactus itself is dangerous with its sharp needle-like thorns. But the fruits are really nasty, looking so coy and friendly with fuzzy dots on them. Those fuzzy dots are actually zillions of hair-like thorns that will sneak into your skin like shards of glass. Trust me, you don't want to touch them. 

There are a few ways to get the fruits off the cactus. You could wear thick gardening gloves, but the problem with that is that your gloves will then be covered with insidious hair-thorns that will attack you next time you touch them. I opt to use kitchen tongs that keep me at a safe distance and can be washed clean without ever touching my skin. 

Grab a prickly pear in the tongs and gently twist it off the cactus. Ripe ones are more red and will easily release from the tree. I gather a bunch of fruits in a large bowl and run the whole thing under water before the next step. 10 good size fruits will yield about a liter of juice.

Step 2: Carve the Prickly Pear

Using the tongs, place a prickly pear on your cutting board and cut off each end with a sharp knife. Then cut a seam about 1/4" deep from end to end. 

Be careful to use the tongs or fork the whole time - never touch the skin of a prickly pear! 

Step 3: Peel the Skin

Using a fork to hold the fruit steady, gently peel the skin away from the fruit with the knife. If the fruit is really ripe, the skin will easily fall away with just some gentle nudging. Once the skin is peeled from both sides, you can safely grasp the fruit to pull it off the bottom without touching the skin. Place the fruit on a clean plate. Use your fork to move the discarded skin aside. Repeat with all your fruits. 

Another reminder to not touch the skin. Seriously. 

Step 4: Remove the Seeds

You probably think you're home free now, right? Ha! Our demonic cactus fruits have another surprise in store to prevent you from enjoying their deliciousness. Packed within the fruit are zillions of hard little seeds. You can't just eat around them - it's like trying to suck through a mouth full of gravel. You'll have to separate the seeds from the pulp. 

There are a few ways to do this. The best way I've found is to use a simple food mill. This handy, old fashioned, mechanical device isn't used much nowadays, except by people who make their own baby food. So, if you've had a baby, or if you're just into antiquated equipment, dig out your food mill and put it to good use. 

Chunk up your pile of cactus fruit and run it through the food mill. In no time flat, you'll have a bowl full of delicious pulpy juice. 

Step 5: Enjoy!

You've done it! You've successfully removed the cactus fruit from its prickly attack exterior and pried its sweet flesh away from the insidious seeds. Thorn-free and not at all seedy, you have something close to ambrosia. You can enjoy the fruits of your labor as a tasty juice, or as an ingredient in a delicious margarita, or to make into candy. Yum!

(And now you might want to do a search on how to remove cactus thorns. Because, despite your best efforts, you got some in your skin, didn't you.)



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    27 Discussions

    I like the seeds in this fruit.. if someone doesn’t like seeds, in my opinion this fruit isn’t for them. It’s not worth all the trouble and steps above to eat cactus fruit! You gotta love it all or leave it all! It’s delicious!!!

    The seeds are chock full of fiber and I enjoy the texture myself. The skin (minus the hair-like thorns called "glochids") is actually edible too, usually used for its high pectin for making Prickly Pear Jelly. I've made modified versions of all these sweets.


    1 year ago

    Thanks for the information, and the good laugh! I'm doing research for a children's book in which the protagonist tries a prickly pear for the first time, and this was very informative.

    I enjoyed this delightful fruit without getting a single needle. I couldn't get around the seeds though but it really wasn't that bad. So tasty. Thank-you.

    wow taste like a banana

    American South-Eastern Sicilians eat the fruit seeds and all: It is a Delicacy!

    They use no tricks either. Tongs to pick the fruit, then carefully place the thumb, index and middle finger tips between the dots of pale or 'thorns'. Cut the ends of the fruit and slice the skin down the middle between the dots. With the (blunt) edge of the knife hold down on side of the skin and roll the fruit out of the skin in opposite direction discarding the skin again being attentive of the dots of thorns which are very annoying and painful. The fruit can then be handled safely and sliced and eaten at room temperature or refrigerated. Do not try to chew the seeds, however, they are like little stones. If you chew one or two it does not matter but try to simply swallow them eating the fruit. I use my tongue more than my teeth. They are very mild, but very delicious and very addictive.

    A favorite of old Sicily brought to the Mediterranean by Christopher Columbus in 1492 where they are now ubiquitous; hence, also called 'Figs of (west) India' or Figu d'Ini, or Figu Pale ('Thorny Figs' or literally 'Figs with Spears'). By the way, the markets today usually have neutralized the thorns—but be careful anyway especially if you grow your own! ctt Sunday, 4 September 2016

    Oh we're Mexican we just eat the seeds, they aren't bad. It actually makes it fun!! ?

    Just yielded my first batch of Prickly Pear / Cactus fruit juice. In my opinion: not overly sweet, yet delicious and easily assumed into different drink concepts.

    It's seedier than a pomegranate, so it really doesn't work well as an edible fruit, but it yields a wonderful bounty as a juice.

    I tortured myself for several hours avoiding the spines and the seeds, and finally realized the simplest, least expensive solution of all. Not to mention a quarter of the time.

    Feel free to visit: and gander:


    2 years ago

    So, in texas and probably most of the sw us, we have a handy tool called a pear burner. Pear burner as in prickly pear, not bartlet pear, and this is what it is for. Actually it was developed by ranchers to burn off thorns and glochids so cows were able to use them as a food source in dry years, but works great for people too! Pear burners cost about 30 bucks, at the farm and ranch store or home depot. Scorch the cactus first then pick off the glochid free fruits.. Other than the fact that other animals will eat the nopals and pears that you scorch, since they are now thorn free, the prickly pear plant won't be bothered at all.

    1 reply

    Oh yeah, and the heat from the burner helps the skins to separate easier, too.

    I have found that rubbing the cats apples with my hands removes most of the spines and then they can be eaten safely.

    Great Instructable! I have never tasted anything sweeter in nature other than maybe honey. :)


    2 years ago

    What would you recommend if you don't have a food mill on hand?

    No, the skin of the fruit is covered in a bunch of tiny needles that can get stuck onto skin easily.

    I laughed at some of your comments.


    2 years ago

    I found that letting them sit in very hot water (about 15 mins) then wearing gloves wipe them off under running water and it removes all cactus spines.

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    also i am looking for a recipe to make jelly from them, anybody have one?

    Just wondering if you know what the vitamin C is in a liter of tuna juice?