This step by step tutorial of how to pick and eat prickly pear cactus is a wonderful adventure in wild food foraging. The first question that is always asked when people are asked to take a bit of a prickly pear cactus is ” What does it taste like? ” The answer is a cross of three fruits that everyone is very familiar with … Watermelon, Kiwi and a touch of Lime. The fruit flesh is slightly grainy to the tongue almost like undissolved sugar.
With so much of this delicious free fruit growing in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and southern California, any wild food forager can find a huge amount of fruit to eat fresh and preserve through water bath canning into jams, jellies and BBQ sauce.
Each cactus pad can support numerous flowers, each flower yielding one fruit. Up to 30 blooms have been counted on mature pads, but 8 to 16 is a average number for good sized fruits. The fruits are ripe enough to harvest when the glochids (hair-like spines) fall off. Twist, rather than pull, the Prickly Pear fruit from the cactus pad to avoid tearing it.
There has been medical interest in the Prickly Pear plant. Some studies have shown that the pectin contained in the Prickly Pear pulp lowers levels of “bad” cholesterol while leaving “good” cholesterol levels unchanged. Another study found that the fibrous pectin in the fruit may lowers diabetics’ need for insulin. Both fruits and pads of the prickly pear cactus are rich in slowly absorbed soluble fibers that help keep blood sugar stable.
Over a period of several weeks in late spring and early summer, each pad produces several three-to-four-inch wide flowers that bloom in an array of colors, depending on the variety, from subtle to brilliant tones of yellows and oranges, pinks and reds. When the blooms fade, the edible fruits form (Prickly Pear).
How to Pick and Eat Prickly Pear Cactus