What Flavor Is Prickly Pear Actually Supposed To Be?

If you've ever been out walking in the desert and seen a cactus plant brimming with sharp, brightly colored bulbs, you've seen prickly pears. Despite their spiky appearance, prickly pears are edible cactus. Belonging to the Opuntia genus and native to Mexico, prickly pears are now cultivated all over the world thanks to their adaptability to multiple climates. They come in a variety of different colors, including lime green, yellow, and reddish-pink. But what are they supposed to taste like?

Not to be fooled, once again, by their appearance, the flavor of prickly pears is anything but sharp. In fact, prickly pears are actually very sweet. Sometimes compared to strawberry, melon and even bubblegum, a ripe prickly pear has a soft interior filled with edible seeds, almost like pomegranate or papaya. Of course, it's worth noting that there are hundreds of varieties of prickly pear, representing a range of subtle fruity flavors.

If you'd like to try prickly pear for yourself, harvesting and consuming them is an involved process, to say the very least. There are a number of steps you need to take before you can get past the spikes and enjoy the sweetness within.

How to eat prickly pears

One thing you need to be aware of when handling prickly pears is the presence of small, microscopic thorns called glochids. These have barbed ends which, when they get stuck in your skin, are nearly impossible to get out. So, for harvesting, use tongs to twist their fruits away from the cactus paddles. Getting rid of the glochids in order to enjoy the fruit is a tricky thing, but there are several possible methods. You can scrub and wash cactus to remove the glochids, try soaking the prickly pears in a bowl of ice water which will loosen the spines, or even burn them off with a kitchen torch or gas stove flame. 

Once the glochids have been taken care of, you can peel away the outer skin to get to the flesh. Despite their sweetness, prickly pears are not overly fleshy fruit. You can eat them as is, but it is far easier to juice them and use the rendered liquid to make any number of different things. 

Place the de-thorned fruits in a blender or food processor, add a little water, and blitz away. Strain the pulp and seeds afterward and you'll have yourself a thick juice. This can be a base for cocktails — like a prickly pear margarita — or smoothies, rendered further down into syrup for candy or to put over ice cream, made into a vinaigrette for salad, or diluted with some sparkling water for a refreshing, healthy no-sugar soda.