What is a cactus pear?
Only a few are aware that nopal cactus' fruit, cacti with paddles shaped like a beaver tail, are actually edible. These neon fruits are called cactus or prickly pears due to their pear-like size and shape. Cactus pears provide flavorful juice that tastes similar to a blend of watermelon, raspberries, and strawberries. The color of the prickly skin of a cactus pear can vary from purplish red to green. Scattered with black seeds, its porous, soft flesh also range in color from deep pink to yellow-green. Though its fruit is sweet, it can be bland in flavor but still have a melon-like aroma. Cactus pears are popular in South and Central America, Mexico, Southern Africa, and Mediterranean countries.
How to use cactus pear?
The juice of cactus pear is often used to make candy or jam, for salad vinaigrette, and to flavor frosting. Moreover, it works surprisingly well in cocktails. Boiling down cactus pear with a bit of lemon and orange juice can create a sauce for cheesecakes and fruit salads.
Where to get cactus pear?
Some natural food supermarkets, many farmers' markets, and Mexican markets carry cactus pear fruit. However, you can find it growing naturally in the Mediterranean, California, Mexico, and the Southwest. Though cactus pears that can be bought in the market have their hair-like, tiny thorns removed and cleaned, the ones you freshly get from the wild are covered with them. Make sure to handle its barbs with heavy leatherwork gloves and rub them hard with a brush and water to guarantee that the thorns are off. Either way, cactus pears should be carefully handled with gloves just to be safe.
What part of the cactus pear is edible?
Only the fruit inside of prickly pear is edible and it's not advisable to eat the spines or peel.
How to prepare a cactus pear?
You can cut and prepare cactus pears with the following steps or methods.
- Slice both ends of the cactus pear off and discard them.
- Make a long vertical or downward slice on the body of the cactus pear.
- Slip a finger through the slice and securely hold the skin.
- Peel back the skin. Begin with the fleshy, thick skin that is wrapped all over the cactus pear. Discard the peeled skin and you'll finally be left with the cactus pear itself. Its flesh is scattered with countless little black edible seeds. You can just cut the pear into pieces and eat it, seeds and all.
- To extract the juice of cactus fruit, place the peeled pears in a food processor or blender and pulse until they are liquified. Place the blended pears in a fine mesh sieve to strain the juice into a bowl or pitcher. Discard the remaining seeds and pulp.
How to cook cactus pear?
Most recipes that use cactus pear as an ingredient often require it to be cooked down to a pulp, strain it afterward, and cook it again to make jelly, sauces, syrup, and jams.
How to eat cactus pear?
There are many ways to consume a cactus pear. You can cook it to make pear jelly, chutney, or jam. The juice, after being cooked and reduced with sugar, can be used as a syrup for cocktails. Cactus pear-flavored sauces are perfect for roasted meat since it adds so much flavor. The earthy flavor of cactus pears is great for savory and sweet recipes. Its pureed and strained raw fruits is a famed ingredient of a margarita. The cactus paddles are edible and can be pickled, grilled, or sautéed. Cactus pears in Mexico, like any other fruits, are generally enjoyed raw. Red prickly pears are occasionally turned into alcoholic beverages like fermented drink colonche and liquor chiquito. Melcocha, a sweet jam from boiled cactus pear, is used as a spread for bread and tortillas.
How long will cactus pear keep fresh?
Cactus pears should keep fresh in your refrigerator's produce drawer or on a counter for a week or two, but it depends on their ripeness when you bought them. If the cactus pears are cut open, you can store them in airtight containers to keep them fresh.