What is a prickly pear, exactly? If you’ve never tried this unique fruit before, you’re in for a treat!
Prickly pears are misunderstood. People are put off by their spiky exterior. But we all know what they say about judging a book by its cover…
Because these little cactus fruits are fantastic!
I mean, it’s a fruit that comes with a built-in defense system. That means the inside must be fabulous.
So, explore the wild side and give prickly pears a try! They may be a little prickly and intimidating, but they’re worth the effort.
What Is a Prickly Pear?
Prickly pears are a cactus that produces edible fruit and stems.
As with all cactus plants, prickly pears prefer arid environments. They are found in the western and south-central United States, Mexico, and South America.
The flattened, paddle-shaped stems are called nopales. They are edible and are a popular ingredient in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine.
Nopales have a tangy, citrusy flavor. Their texture is chewy and often compared to cooked green beans or asparagus.
They can be boiled, grilled, or roasted. Nopales are used in a myriad of dishes like salads, tacos, and soups.
Prickly pear fruit, also called Indian fig and cactus pear, is egg-shaped or round. It comes in colors ranging from green to vibrant shades of red and purple.
Fine, hairy, barbed spines cover the thick skin of the fruit. These spines are a defense system, protecting the soft, juicy interior.
Watch out because the spines are painful if they come into contact with your skin. Since they are so fine, they can be difficult to remove from your body.
This can cause itching and burning.
But do not fear!
Once the fruit is peeled and the spines are removed, it can be eaten safely. The juicy, sweet flesh and pulp are often used in jams, jellies, and candies.
The prickly pear can also be eaten fresh or used in drinks and desserts.
What Does a Prickly Pear Taste Like?
Prickly pear has a sweet, juicy flavor. Many liken it to a mash-up between watermelon and bubblegum, with floral and citrusy undertones.
Some varieties may also have a hint of tartness or acidity.
Its texture is soft and juicy with tiny, edible seeds like those in kiwi fruit. The flesh is also grainy, like a watermelon, albeit firmer.
Where to Buy Prickly Pears
Prickly pears can be found in many grocery stores and Mexican markets.
You can check any specialty exotic fruit markets, as well. You’ll find them in the produce section alongside other cactus fruits.
When shopping for prickly pears, look for fruits that are firm, plump, and brightly colored. There should be no visible signs of damage or mold.
Keep in mind that fresh prickly pears are covered with tiny hair-like thorns. So, go to the store prepared with heavy, leather work gloves.
How to Choose Prickly Pears
There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing prickly pears.
- First off, the color of the fruit doesn’t indicate ripeness. Ripe prickly pears can be red, green, or pale yellow.
- Instead, look for a plump, rotund fruit that feels heavy for its size.
- Avoid any wrinkled fruits– the skin should look smooth (under the spines). Wrinkly means mushy!
- When handling the fruit, hold it between your thumb and middle finger. This will help you avoid the spines but the glove helps, too!
How to Cut and Prepare Prickly Pears
You must gather a few things before attempting to prepare prickly pear fruit. You will need a sharp knife, tongs, and a gas stove or torch.
Also, handle the fruit with heavy gloves to avoid getting pricked! Or burned.
1. Burn off the glochids.
Glochids are those tiny hair-like thorns that cover the fruit. Stores typically remove them for you, but you want to be 100% sure they’re gone.
Do not skip this step!
- Using tongs, hold the fruit over an open flame.
- Rotate it slowly for a minute or two until the glochids turn brown and flake off.
- Be careful not to burn the fruit itself!
After burning off the glochids, let the prickly pear cool.
2. Cut off the skin of the fruit with a sharp knife.
Start by slicing off the top and bottom ends of the fruit.
- Make a lengthwise incision along the fruit.
- You should slice through the skin just deep enough to penetrate the flesh.
Use your fingers to pry the skin away from the flesh. Discard the skin and keep the fruit.
3. Rinse the flesh in cold water.
This will help to remove the glochids even more thoroughly,
Once the glochids are all gone, the prickly pear is ready to eat.
You can enjoy the fruit raw, slice it into a salad, or blend it into a smoothie.
How to Use Prickly Pears
Looking to create a refreshing drink, a sweet dessert, or a savory sauce? You can do all that with prickly pears and more!
They are a fantastic ingredient to add to your culinary repertoire.
One of the simplest ways to enjoy prickly pears is by eating them raw. They’re fresh and delicious.
You also can blend the fruit into a smoothie. Or, use the juice in lemonades, cocktails, or mocktails.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, try reducing prickly pears to make a sauce. Its sweet flavor is the perfect counterpoint for rich meat entrees like pork or lamb.
Cook the fruit down into a pulp and strain it. Cook it again with sugar to create a thick and flavorful sauce.
Keep it sweet if you’re not a fan of the whole sweet-savory dinner idea. Use the thickened sauce like jam or jelly to spread on toast, tortillas, and crackers.
Oh, and prickly pear + ice cream = a match made in culinary heaven!
How to Store Prickly Pears
Store prickly pears at room temperature for up to 4 days. Or in the refrigerator crisper drawer for up to a week.
Store prickly pear juice in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
You can also freeze the juice for your shakes and smoothies. Just pour it into an ice cube tray, and freeze for up to a year.
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