Cactus Pear

This curious item, which looks a little like a russet potato with lots of eyes, appeared on the shelves of our local grocery store labeled as ‘Cactus Pears’. The name was unfamiliar to me but, when I Googled it, I discovered that the same article is often called ‘Prickly Pears’, which I have heard of before. I should note here that, according to Wikipedia, the name ‘Prickly Pear’ is shared by quite a few different things but is most commonly used to refer to this particular fruit.

The cactus pear, also known as ‘cactus fig’ in addition to ‘prickly pear’, does indeed come from a type of cactus colloquially known as the ‘Paddle Cactus’. I was surprised when I saw a picture of the plant as it looks exactly like a variety we had growing in our garden in Libya when I was a small child. However, I can’t for the life of me remember any ‘pears’ on them at all. The cactus is most associated with Mexico but it also grows in South America and, I was astounded to learn, can be found as far North as New England and southern Ontario. In any event, the fruit looked really interesting and, naturally, I had to give it a try…

I’m not sure why, but for some reason I rather expected the interior of the fruit to be white, or light colored, at least, and thus I was quite taken aback by the vivid red color you see above. If you look closely, you can see that the rind is fairly thick and the rich, ruby pulp is full of little seeds.

One could, I suppose, cut or peel away the rind rather like an orange, but it is much easier to slice the fruit in two and then remove the pulp from each half. This is not quite as easy as popping the pulp out of a Rambutan, for instance, but a spoon will scoop it out quite cleanly, as you can see above.

Texture and Taste

Biting into the pulp gives a mouth-feel quite a bit like watermelon except for the multitude of seeds, which are about the size of those in a tomato and much, much harder. The juice is not as watery as watermelon though, and is almost syrup-like in consistency with a corresponding sweetness. The taste does rather come across like watermelon at the outset but there is also a more aromatic quality that has a vague hint of cherry or grenadine to it. It is pleasant, and the juice would make a nice drink I would say. However, I spent $1.99 for this single little fruit alone and, since it would take four or five just to make a decent glassful, I likely won’t be trying that anytime soon. That being said though, the experience, although marred a little by the nuisance of the seeds, was worthwhile…

21 thoughts on “Cactus Pear”

  1. In Mexican cooking the “paddles” from the paddle cactus are sliced, cubed and cooked like string beans. They call the sliced paddles Nopales because they come from the Nopal cactus. Nopales have a soft but crunchy texture that also becomes a bit slimy/sticky. like okra, when cooked. It has a flavor similar to a slightly tart green bean, asparagus, or green pepper. The fruit, “tuna” in spanish, grows all over the Nopal cactus and is visually appealing. Many people peel them, cut them and eat them. They are full of hard seeds but have a pleasant taste if you can get past the seeds. When you eat them it’s like a machine gun going off in your head. We find them all over here in Texas and the Southwestern US. You can juice them and use them for glazes on meats and desserts, as well as for jams.

  2. We have these in our garden and they are ripe at the moment, but the problem I always have with them is getting the prickles off the pears. I have heard that chewing gum does the trick, but I haven’t put that to the test yet.

    1. I absolutely hated Tequila the first time I had it and every time thereafter until my wife brought home a little sampler bottle of some expensive aged Tequila she got at at a convention. It sat on the shelf for ages and then I finally decided to try it… It was a revelation! Now if I could only get it again… and some more prickly pears 🙂

  3. Delicious fruit. brings back my first memory of them. They have some very tiny hair thin bristles on the skin that I got embedded in my hands whilst peeling them. Thought nothing of it and ate the delicious fruit, but afterwards the fu****** were impossible to see or remove. I could only feel them in my hands prickling into my skin. I think they went away on their own….:-)

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