Feb 2009

Vegetation Profile: Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit

The fruit of prickly pears, commonly called cactus figs, Indian fig or tuna, is edible, although it has to be peeled carefully to remove the small spines on the outer skin before consumption. If the outer layer is not properly removed, glochids can be ingested causing discomfort of the throat, lips, and tongue as the small spines are easily lodged in the skin.

Prickly Pear Cactus have been a staple food of Native Americans for many centuries. Some species of prickly pear cactus were introduced into North America from tropical America a number of centuries ago. The fruit of these cultivated prickly pear cactus is a common delicacy in Mexico and is sold in markets as “tuna.”

The prickly pear fruit normally ripens and is ready for harvest during the late summer and early fall months. Prickly pear fruit  are often used to make candies, jellies, drinks and pie fillings.

During my year in Asia, it seemed like I was sampling a new fruit every other week. Everything was exotic and new, and I wanted to taste it all. Now that I’m back at home and frequenting supermarkets rather than wet markets, I strive to be just as adventurous. During a quick trip to a grocery store in Alhambra with Wandering Chopsticks, she recommended that I purchase some prickly pear cactus fruit to try. Even though they looked dull and unappealing, my curiosity got the best of me and I bought three.

I decided to eat the prickly pear cactus fruit in the same fashion as I do dragon fruit—sliced in half and scooped out with a spoon. The fruit’s flesh was a brilliant magenta, while the texture was coarse and full of round, edible seeds. Although its appearance was intriguing, the fruit’s actual taste was a disappointment—one-dimensionally sweet without a trace of tang.

It makes perfect sense that these fruits are generally transformed into candies, jellies, drinks and pie fillings rather than eaten raw. Without any added oomph, prickly pear cactus fruits are a bore.

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8 thoughts on “Vegetation Profile: Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit

  1. That’s odd. They usually have a slightly bitter tang to them that works well with tequila. I’ve never had one that was one-dimensionally sweet before.

  2. Seconding the “one-note” AND the comment about tequila. I’ll buy them every now and then as a novelty, but I like them best in the margaritas at Il Cantina in Philly. Perfect with salt and lime. I’ve never had one that I’d consider bitter or even sour, though.

  3. Thught you might like to know that there are numerous varieties of prickly pear catcus (according to Wiki >400)

    I am a transplant to central Texas and I have been having fun tasting the varieties, some are cool and melon like, some are tart and have a lemomy flavor and some are sweet.

    So you might want to give these tasty treats a second chance.

  4. Hey I’m curious we have a lot of the prickly pear on our land and I have a baby food mill and it works great so I gave a little to my baby girl 9months, do you think this stuff is ok for babies?

  5. i am a msc. student, then i want to do my research on prickly pear cactus and i want help from some information and datas.

  6. Just ate my first prickly pear. I’m visiting Romr, Italy and my husbsnd wanted me to try one. It caused diarrhea and an itching irritation at the corners of my mouth somewhat like I have experienced at the onset of a cold sore. Any idea what is going on?

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