Prickly pears are a unique fruit that often goes overlooked. Prickly pear can be intimidating or hard to come by, depending on the circumstances. But if you’re willing to give this special treat a try, you’ve got to start with the basics. So, when are prickly pears in season, and how do you eat them?
The peak season for prickly pears can range from late August or early September through December. To enjoy the fruit, you need to remove the tiny “spikes” by slowly rotating the pear over an open flame. Then, you can peel and remove the skin. The tiny seeds can be swallowed, strained, or spit out.
Don’t be intimidated by the fact that prickly pears have a few spikes. In fact, most store-bought prickly pears have the spikes already removed. Read on for everything you need to know if you’re looking to step out of your comfort zone and try this unforgettable desert fruit.
What Is a Prickly Pear?
Prickly pears go by many different names, including pear cactus, Opuntia, nopal, and more. These names refer to various species of cactus and their edible fruits.
Prickly pear is a Western Hemisphere native and is crucial to the diet of various tropical and subtropical regions. Several different species are cultivated, including the Indian fig.
Prickly pears can range in color from pink, magenta, and green to yellow, orange, and everything in between. The rind of prickly pear is thick, coarse, and can be covered in stiff spines that must be removed.
These fruits aren’t very big — around the same size as a kiwi. The flesh has a moist consistency, with a flavor and aroma profile that’s similar to watermelon, plum, strawberries, and bananas.
When Should You Buy Prickly Pear?
Prickly pears can be found in specialty markets, organic grocery stores, and local farmer’s markets. These unique fruits are typically available in late summer through early winter.
Generally speaking, the peak season for prickly pears can range from late August or early September through December.
How Do You Know When a Prickly Pear Is Ripe?
It’s important to select ripe fruits, whether you’re harvesting them by hand or purchasing cactus pears from your local grocery store.
Generally speaking, you should look for prickly pears that are deep red or magenta in color. However, some varieties may be ready to eat with a green or yellow hue.
If you live in an area where the pears grow naturally, you’ll notice prickly pears falling off cacti or already lying on the ground nearby. You might notice birds pecking or eating them as well. These are good indicators that the fruits are starting to ripen and are ready to enjoy.
Select prickly pears that are small, plump, unblemished, and firm to the touch. Ripe cactus pears will give a bit when pressed. The skin should be shiny and appealing.
Avoid any fruits that are moldy, leaking, or bruised. If you’re harvesting them by hand, be sure to wear gloves and use metal tongs, as the tiny hairs can irritate the skin.
Should You Refrigerate Prickly Pears?
Refrigerating prickly pears is completely fine. You can place these fruits in a resealable bag or air-tight container for up to three days in the fridge. Prickly pears will ripen and become soft after a few days when they’re left at room temperature.
How Do You Eat a Prickly Pear?
Prickly pears can be enjoyed fresh, cooked, or in various recipes. However, prickly pears are covered in glochids, which are tiny hair-like splinters that are hard to see and can pierce your skin, causing irritation. These glochids will need to be removed before you can safely enjoy cactus pears, and here’s how:
Step 1: Remove the “Spikes”
Store-bought prickly pears should have all of their “spikes” or glochids removed. However, it’s important to practice caution regardless of whether the fruit was harvested fresh or bought at the market.
One way to remove the glochids is to burn them off over an open flame. You can grip the fruit with a pair of tongs or pierce it with a fork. Slowly rotate the prickly pear over an open flame, like a gas stove.
You may hear popping sounds or see tiny sparks fly off the fruit in the process. Continue rotating the fruit until the spots are blackened. Be sure to get the top and bottom of the fruit as well.
You might also want to rinse and scrub store-bought prickly pear vigorously with water before eating. Be sure to wear gloves or use a thick towel while you process the fruit, regardless if it’s store-bought or harvested fresh.
Step 2: Cut the Skin
Now that you’ve burned off the “spikes,” it’s time to start cutting the skin. Cut off about a quarter inch from both ends of the fruit. Using a paring knife, slice the skin of the prickly pair about a quarter-inch deep lengthwise across the fruit.
Step 3: Remove the Skin
You can use your fingers to reveal the flesh now that you’ve sliced the skin. You’ll notice a thin layer of skin on the exterior and a thicker layer underneath. Peel both of these layers off until you’re left with only the pear-shaped flesh.
Step 4: Enjoy!
Now you can enjoy the prickly pear after the skin is removed. You can slice it up and eat it fresh. Remember that cactus pears have small, hard seeds that you can’t bite through.
These seeds are safe to swallow, or you can spit them out as you eat the flesh. Alternatively, you can use a juicer or strainer to get rid of any seeds.
Popular Ways to Enjoy Prickly Pear
As we mentioned earlier, there are various ways you can enjoy prickly pear. You can enjoy them fresh once they’ve been processed and even add a bit of lime juice for extra flavor.
Topping salads, yogurt, or even oatmeal with freshly cubed prickly pear is another way to enjoy the fruit.
Your options are nearly endless if you opt for juicing prickly pears. You can add the juice to tea, smoothies, lemonade, or other beverages for a sweet kick of flavor. Or you can add the juice to barbecue sauces and other condiments.
You can use the fruit in desserts or as a salad dressing If you decide to make a puree. You make a prickly pear puree by simmering the fruit with water and sugar for around 15 minutes or until tender.
After, you can blend or strain the mixture even further. Simply combine this mixture with vinegar to make a delicious salad dressing.
If you’re craving the flavor of prickly pear but can’t find the fruit in your area, try this tasty prickly pear syrup (on Amazon) or a refreshing can of prickly pear-flavored Sanpellegrino (also on Amazon).
Prickly pears are an incredibly sweet and delicious fruit, whether you enjoy them fresh in the morning or part of your evening cocktail. Just be sure to process and remove any “spikes” before eating.