We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is Prickly Pear?

By Cathy Rogers
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A prickly pear, also known as cactus pear or tuna fruit, has large, fleshy pads. It is an ingredient in a variety of recipes, including marmalades, jellies, and dessert sauces. The pads, fruits, and seeds of this cactus are edible, but the rind is not.

Prickly pears have flattened oval or round stems with spines, which may be long and thick or short and fine. Members of the Opuntia genus, these plants grow in North American deserts as well as other parts of the world. This cactus grows in the Southwest U.S. and Mexico in well-drained soil. An extremely cold-tolerant form of cactus, it can also be found in Canada.

This cactus has yellow, red, or purple blooms and ranges in height from 1 foot (.3 m) to 6-7 feet (1.8-2.1 m). In addition to normal cactus spines, they have additional, finely barbed spines called glochids.

Use the fruit of the prickly pear for jellies, preserves, pickles, and salsas. Combine banana, honey, wine vinegar, lemon and lime juice with the fruit for a vinaigrette. To make a tropical fruit salad, peel and slice the prickly pear and combine with honeydew, guava, pineapple and other fruits. Unsalted butter, prickly pear cactus fruit, honey, and cilantro create a flavored butter. The fruit is also used in pies and dried as a snack food.

The cactus stems, called nopales, are fried or grilled, similar to other vegetables. Use the pads in scrambled egg dishes and salads. Nopalitos refers to the pads once they are cut and prepared.

When selecting a prickly pear, avoid those that are soft or have dark, soft spots. The fruit is generally ready for harvest in late summer or early fall. Use leather or rubber gloves or long handled tongs to pick the fruit from the cactus. Ripen at room temperature.

Be careful to remove all spines when using a prickly pear in cooking. To remove the glochids, use a knife to cut them off or peel the skin. Other methods for removing the glochids include passing the fruit through an open flame or shaking it in a bag of hot coals.

The pads and fruits of this plant are useful in stabilizing blood sugar because they are rich in slowly absorbed soluble fiber. Because prickly pear cactus contains significant amounts of vitamins B1 and B6, it is also sold in capsule form as a supplement. Research is ongoing to determine whether cactus is helpful in controlling cholesterol, obesity, gastrointestinal disorders, skin problems, and even viral infections.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon349819 — On Sep 29, 2013

Help! I need first aid advice! My son was checking out the prickly pair in the grocery store and he got some of those fine little prickers stuck in his hand!

He says they feel like fiberglass slivers. There is no swelling but they hurt like crazy. Can you help me with some suggestions for treatment? --


By SarahSon — On Jul 14, 2011

When I read the prickly pears tasted like a combination of bubble gum, watermelon and strawberries I really wanted to try some. I knew my aunt had some growing on her property, so I knew where I could get some.

Their natural purple color makes them look so inviting, but you need to be sure and wear gloves when you are working with them. The cactus skin can be unforgiving.

I went online to figure out the best way to prepare them and ended up making a prickly pear syrup that was pretty good over some warm pancakes. It ended up being quite an interesting project and I can't say that I would do it again, but at least I know what they taste like.

By julies — On Jul 13, 2011

I had never even heard of prickly pears before visiting a friends house and she offered me some prickly pear pickles.

They had a very interesting taste to them and were unlike any pickle I had ever tasted before. They had a slightly hot taste to them because she puts some jalapeno peppers and garlic clove in each jar of pickles while they were aging.

I have made pickles before with cucumbers and appreciate the work that goes in to them. They were very interesting to try, but I didn't like them enough to find some prickly pears and make them myself.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.