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Cacti plants are an incredibly fascinating group of succulents. While people associate the plant with lots of things, only a few know that cacti fruits are edible and so nutritious. Whether you are intrigued by their beautiful flowers, stems, shapes, or even spines, it is good to keep in mind that cacti plants can offer much more value beyond the aesthetics.
Wondering how to eat a cactus fruit or prickly pear? There are crucial steps you need to follow to make the cactus fruit edible. To get past their prickly exterior, you will need a sharp knife, bowl, fork, cutting board, and a food mill if you want to blend the fruit into pulp/juice. The process starts with identifying and harvesting the right fruits. From there, you need to get rid of the thorns, get rid of the skin, and decide whether you want to consume it raw or cook it.
These fruits have been an essential part of different diets for many years. They form an integral part of Mexican cuisine and are also consumed in many parts of the United States. In this post, we guide you step-by-step on how to prepare the prickly pear before eating it. Read on to find out everything you need to know.
What Is a Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit
A prickly pear cactus fruit is an edible fruit that grows on the nopal cactus. This type of cactus typically grows in hot and arid regions, including the Sonoran Desert, Mexico, New Mexico, Texas, and California.
The prickly pear has an oval shape with red-purple skin that has numerous small spines or needles.
The pulp is sweet and juicy, with a texture and flavor similar to watermelon or kiwi. Depending on the variety, it may contain edible small black seeds.
Always pay close attention to the spines when harvesting cactus fruits since they can be sharp and painful.
Preparing and Eating the Cactus Fruit
In this section, we talk about how to identify ripe cactus fruits, how to harvest them, and how to prepare them for consumption. You will need the tools mentioned above to complete the steps successfully. So, let us get started right away.
Identifying and harvesting the cactus fruit
The first thing you need to do is to identify the fruit on the plant and harvest it in the right away to avoid suffering thorn piercings. Typically, cactus fruits grow on the edges of the flat pads of the plant.
The fruits are pear-shaped and come in different colors ranging from green (not so sweet) to red (the sweetest). You may also come across fruits with orange or purple spots. The little spots that form on the surface of the fruit are not spines but glochids.
The tiny hair-like splinters can easily stick into your skin, causing severe pain, and they are hard to see. When harvesting your cactus fruit, be sure to protect your hands with thick gloves or use a towel folded in several layers. Six or seven paper towels stack together to form one thick layer will also work fine.
To harvest the fruit, hold it firmly in your hands then twist it gently. The greener fruits usually require more effort to harvest because they are not fully ripe. However, the red ones that are fully ripe will pop right off the plant with minimal effort.
Place the harvested fruit in a basket or bowl, and don’t touch it with your bare hands. You can also use tongs to get the fruits off the cactus.
Preparing to remove the skin
There are a few things you need to do to get the fruit ready for the next step. First, you need to remove the glochids to make the fruit safe for handling with bare hands. If you purchased the fruit from a store, the glochids should have been removed already.
You can easily burn off the glochids by holding your fruit over an open flame. Hold it with a pair of tongs or stick it on the sharp end of a fork and slowly turn the fruit over the fire.
Don’t be surprised to hear popping sounds as the glochids burn. Continue turning the fruit over the flame until all the glochids burn.
Peeling off the skin
Using a fork, hold your cactus fruit steadily and gently peel off the skin using a knife. If the cactus fruit is ripe, the skin will pull off easily with some gentle nudging. However, you may need to use a little bit more effort if the fruit was still green.
Once you have peeled the skin from both sides of the fruit, carefully grasp it to pull off the bottom skin layer.
Be careful not to touch the skin since it may still be having some glochids that may pierce your skin.
Place the fruit on a clean plate and use a fork or your pair of tongs to discard the bottom skin. Repeat this process with all the other fruits. Just make sure you avoid touching the skin with bare hands.
Removing the seeds
You probably think that the fruit is ready for consumption after peeling off the skin, right? You are not yet there. Most cactus fruits will have another surprise that you must deal with before you start to enjoy its deliciousness.
The fruit contains numerous seeds that you must find a way of eliminating from the fruit. You cannot eat the fruit with all the seeds. There are so many ways of removing them, but the best way is to use a food mill.
This simple mechanical device is mostly used by mothers to prepare baby food. So, if you are a mother, chances are you already have this tool. If not, be sure to look for it at your local store.
Simply chunk up your prickly pear fruits and run them through the food mill. In no time, you will have a bowl full of pulpy juice, and that is it.
What if you don’t have a food mill?
Some people are never bothered about the idea of passing their fruit through a food mill to get rid of the hard seeds. Fortunately, that is not a big issue. If you don’t have a food mill, then you can skip step number four.
After peeling off the skin, slice your fruit into small pieces ready to serve. While you cannot bite through the small hard seeds, they won’t cause you any harm if you choose to swallow them.
Alternatively, chew the fruit and spit the seeds out. Feel free to do whatever suits you best. Here are the five best ways you can enjoy the prickly pear fruit:
- Cut up and add to salads
- Cut up and add to any corn side dish
- Add the fruit pieces to your favorite burrito along with lettuce and tomatoes
- Dice the edible prickly pear fruit and add to couscous along with some diced tomatoes to spice up everything
- Dice and add to your favorite salsa recipe or any other store-bought salsa
Health Benefits of Cactus Fruits
Apart from being delicious, cactus fruits are also packed with a lot of health benefits. While there are no solid scientific studies on the health benefits of cactus fruits, experts suggest that nutrients found in these fruits can lower blood sugar levels, reduce cholesterol, and even heal wounds.
The results of a study conducted in 2019 showed that the nopal plant family, Opuntia dillenii has many anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The findings also suggested that the fruit may boost immunity, protect body organs such as liver, and soothe the pain.
It is for this reason that many herbal doctors cherish cactus fruits. They use them in treating and preventing a wide range of conditions and symptoms such as ulcers, glaucoma, fatigue, ulcers, wounds, and liver conditions. In Mexico, a lot of people believe that these fruits can cure diabetes.
Just like most vegetables and fruits, cacti fruits also pack healthy fiber, which plays a critical role in managing diabetes. A significant number of individuals make the fruits part of a high-fiber diet that can be used to manage sugar levels, improve levels of lipids/fat compounds, and reduce insulin levels in the bloodstream.
While it might be too early to call these fruits a superfood, they can still be part of a healthy day-to-day diet. In fact, some people consume their leaves, stems, and even flowers. Each part contains a lot of calcium, potassium, and, most importantly, proteins.
Are All Prickly Pear Cactus Fruits Edible?
All prickly pears from the Opuntia genus are edible, although you may discover that not all varieties are tasty and delicious. Some fruits will usually have more seeds or spines than others, and it is upon you to decide what you want.
Most of the prickly pears and cactus pads you will find in stores come from the Opuntia genus but have been carefully selected, prepared, and packaged. Saguaro cactus fruit is also edible, although it is not easy to come by in stores.
Organ pipe cactus fruit is also edible, as is the famous dragon fruit that grows on some cacti species. There are lots of other types of cactus fruits that are consumed in different parts of the world, but these are some of the most common ones.
Different Ways to Eat a Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit
There are different ways to enjoy a prickly pear cactus fruit. Some include juicing it, blending it into smoothies, adding it to salads, and composting it for a savory flavor.
Prickly pear can also be eaten fresh right off the cactus. To do this, ensure you burn off the glochids with an open flame and remove the skin with a knife or fork before eating.
Prickly pear can also be diced and added to burritos, couscous, salsa recipes, or any other store-bought salsa for a unique flavor. Some people even go an extra mile by adding it to their cocktails.
When Are Prickly Pear Fruits in Season?
Typically, prickly pear fruits are harvested from July to October when they are ripe and ready to eat.
Some varieties may be available for sale during other times of the year, but fresh-harvested fruits will only be found in stores around these months.
Some grocery stores will still have plenty of prickly pear fruit supply in December, depending on where they get their supplies from.
Sometimes, they will appear in stores even before the harvesting season since they have been frozen.
Although cacti fruits may appear vicious on the outside, they are so delicious on the inside. However, before you get to the sweet meaty inner flesh, you will need to do a lot of things to get past the prickly spines.
Any slight mistake can be costly and will leave you nursing injuries. Always take time to prepare your cactus fruit in the right way before serving it. If you are still new to cactus fruits, consider easing them into your diet slowly to avoid body reactions.
Some people have reported experiencing nausea, diarrhoea, and increased stool frequency after consuming the fruit for the first time. But these symptoms disappear after some time.
So, do you love eating cactus fruits? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below.
Last update on 2023-10-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API