Prickly Pear Cactus Margarita Recipe

If you don't live in the Southwest or under, there's probably a lot to unpack here. Sure, margarita is easy enough to figure out, but prickly? With pears? And a cactus? Let us explain.

Prickly pear cactus is a round, flat cactus scientifically known as opuntia. Also known in the kitchen as nopales, the prickly plant is generally shaped in large ovals, with smaller ovals budding from the tops in the shape of cartoonish rabbit ears. At the very top of the cactus bloom palm-sized bright pink fruits called prickly pears, which are both beautiful and edible. Referred to as tunas in Mexico, these bulbous fruits are filled with bright pink, squishy flesh. The flesh isn't necessarily sweet, but mild in flavor, not dissimilar to a barely-ripe watermelon.

This recipe utilizes fresh prickly pear tunas to color and flavor a bold margarita. With the addition of homemade prickly pear syrup, the margarita is slightly sweet and tropically flavored, perfect for summertime when prickly pears are more widely available. This recipe by Michelle McGlinn makes the pink fruit first into a simple syrup, then into a bright and citrusy margarita that can be enjoyed on hot days all summer long.

What you need for prickly pear cactus margaritas

To make the prickly pear syrup, you'll first need prickly pear fruit, sugar, and lime. Prickly pears aren't easy to find, so it may take some sleuthing to find in a store near you. If you're having a hard time at your local grocery store, try a Hispanic market and look near the tropical fruits or nopales. The pears will be anywhere from bright pink to dark green in color.

To make the margarita, you'll need tequila, more limes, and triple sec. Since we are using a simple syrup, we won't need to sweeten the drink with any agave. If desired, grab some salt to line the rim.

Scoop out the prickly pear fruit

Slice the small pears in half, revealing the colorful insides. If you're in the Southwest, the outside of your fruit may match the inside, but in areas with less desert, it is likely the inside will be a striking contrast to the exterior. Use a large spoon to scoop the pulpy insides out of the skin, then place them directly into a saucepan. The color will stain any surface it touches, so handle the pears with care.

Mash the prickly pear into a syrup

The inside of the prickly pear fruit is soft, somewhere between a watermelon and a very ripe peach. Mash the pulp into a paste in the saucepan, combining it with the water and sugar to make a jelly-like consistency. This is easiest with a potato masher, but a large fork will do the job. Bring the mixture to a simmer on the stove and heat until syrupy, about 5 to 10 minutes.

Strain and cool the syrup

Without straining, the mixture will be lumpy, seedy, and granular. To make into a smooth syrup, use a fine strainer to remove the solids. With the mixture strained, add the lime juice to open up the sweet flavors of the prickly pear, then allow to cool completely before storing. This makes about 1 ½ cups of syrup, good for plenty of margaritas.

Shake up the margarita

To make a margarita with the fresh syrup, pour the ingredients in a shaker filled with ice and shake firmly until chilled and frothy. To prepare for serving, rub a lime across half of the rim and firmly press into salt to line the glass. For a totally sweet margarita, try rimming the glass with sugar, instead, or using lime zest in the salt mixture for something a little more sour. Pour the margarita into the glass; you can pour all of the ice into the glass with it or strain over fresh ice.

Serve on the rocks

We wouldn't recommend garnishing this margarita with cactus (not the best mouthfeel), so garnish with your favorite fruity topping, instead. Try dehydrated limes, pineapple, or blood oranges, or for something simple, garnish with a fresh lime wedge.

This margarita isn't unlike a typical margarita and pairs well with chips and guacamole, salsa, and tacos, and also goes well with southwestern specialties like red chile enchiladas, green chile cheeseburgers, and pozole. Whether you're in sunny Sante Fe or Cleveland, Ohio, this bright and beautiful cocktail is the perfect way to bring the desert to your table.

Prickly Pear Cactus Margarita Recipe
5 from 27 ratings
Mix up one of these brightly colored margaritas made with prickly pear fruit for your next Mexican food night.
Prep Time
Cook Time
margarita on a table
Total time: 30 minutes
  • For the prickly pear syrup
  • 1 pound prickly pears (about 5)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¾ cups water
  • 1 tablespoon lime
  • For the margarita
  • 1 ounce prickly pear syrup
  • 2 ounces tequila
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • ½ ounce triple sec
  1. Slice the prickly pears in half and scoop the pulp out of the skin. Place in a saucepan with the sugar and water.
  2. Mash the fruit with a potato masher, combining with the water. Turn the heat to medium low and simmer until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture becomes syrupy, about 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Strain the syrup into a bowl or jar. Cool, then add lime juice and stir.
  4. To make the margarita, pour the syrup, tequila, lime juice, and triple sec into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until chilled and frothy, about 15 seconds.
  5. If desired, rim a rocks glass with salt. Pour the margarita into the glass to serve.
Calories per Serving 845
Total Fat 2.5 g
Saturated Fat 0.3 g
Trans Fat 0.0 g
Cholesterol 0.0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 175.5 g
Dietary Fiber 18.6 g
Total Sugars 122.9 g
Sodium 37.5 mg
Protein 3.9 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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