Sweet on the Inside: Prickly Pears

Ingredient Spotlight

On the train into San Francisco last week, I noticed some cactus growing along the fences with brilliant purple fruits perched on the end of each thorny arm. It wasn't until I saw baskets of this same fruit at the market over the weekend that I realized what I'd seen: prickly pears! Have you ever made anything with this fruit?

Also called cactus pear or tuna, prickly pears are roughly fist-sized, oblong fruits that can range in color from the deepest purple-magenta to light green. I've heard that the deeper the color, the sweeter the fruit. The flavor is hard to describe. It reminds me a bit of quince: frutti-tutti sweet and lightly floral.

The inner fruit can be eaten on its own, but is fantastic made into jelly or infused into sugar syrup for sodas and cocktails. The whole fruit can also be juiced, and the juice used in cocktails, frozen paletas, whisked into vinaigrettes, or just sipped all on its own.

The prickly pears you buy in stores usually have had all their thorns removed, but you still need to peel away the tough outer skin before eating. If you have the opportunity to forage prickly pears, be sure to wear thick gloves when picking and handling the fruits. To remove the thorns, soak the prickly pears in cold water or flame the outside with a lighter or over the gas flames on your stove.

Do you have any favorite things to make with prickly pears?

Related: Recipe: Grilled Cactus and Corn Salad

(Image: Brian Lasenby/Shutterstock)