Prickly pear is the fruit of several species of flat-stemmed spiny cacti of the genus Opuntia (family Cactaceae). Prickly pear is native to the Western Hemisphere, it is important for the diet of many tropical and subtropical countries. Also called nopal, Indian fig opuntia and devil’s tongue, its flavor is described by some as melon-like, others as plum; and depending on ripeness, it can range from slightly sweet to syrupy sweet.
High in fiber, rich in antioxidants, carotenoids and essential fatty acids, prickly pear contains minerals like calcium, potassium and magnesium; and is known to have antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anticlastogenic abilities. Historically, prickly pear has been used to treat different ailments, from gastric issues to inflammatory diseases, but its cosmetic uses shouldn’t go unnoticed, as it has been added to hair and skin products and gels.
Fresh prickly pears are the best from fall to spring. Look for the ones that a have deep-colored, smooth, unblemished skin. Beware of soft spots or cracked/broken fruits, they should feel firm but yield to gentle pressure, as a ripe prickly pear should be soft.
Handle them carefully when buying and storing them. While most prickly pears sold at supermarkets or grocery stores usually have their sharp spikes removed before they hit the shelves, some small traces might still be present.
Before eating or cooking with them, rinse the prickly pears with abundant water, scrubbing them vigorously with a kitchen sponge to remove any thorns. Pat dry with a towel.
Cut the ends off with a knife, at least 1/2 inch to an inch on each end of the fruit. Make a vertical slice down the middle of the fruit, cut each half in wedges, then peel the skin along with the thick layer under it by sliding your finger or a spoon between it and the fleshy part; separate the pulp, discard the skin. Now your fruit is ready to enjoy!
To make juice
– Clean, trim and peel the fruits accordingly.
– Cut in pieces and process in a blender adding cool water, a splash of lime juice and a bit of raw honey, if desired.
– Strain and pour in a jar, or serve immediately over some ice.
You can simmer this juice at low temperature and make a reduction to use in cocktails, pour over ice cream, pancakes, or to add a tropical sweet taste to sauces and vinaigrettes.