Prickly Pears

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The Prickly Pear Cactus is one of the most recognizable plants, not only in Texas but probably in the entire United States. They are native to the Americas, and thanks to explorers, they can also be found around the world. The fruit of the prickly pear cactus is called a “tuna” (not to be confused with the fish) and the paddles are commonly known as “nopal”. The prickly pear cactus has been prized among Native Americans and to this day, is still regarded as an important part of Texas life.

  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Order: Caryophyllales
  • Family: Cactaceae
  • Genus: Opuntia
  • Species: Varies
  • Binomial name: Varies

Prickly Pear Trivia

  • The prickly pear cactus is the state cactus of Texas.
  • Prickly pear cacti have been known to live up to 20 years.
  • Packrats have been known to make their homes at the roots of prickly pear cacti as a means of protection from their predators.
  • The prickly pear fruit has been said to have the flavor of watermelons and bubblegum.
  • Prickly pear sap can be applied to wounds like one would aloe vera.

Prickly Pear Buying Guide

Prickly Pears or Cactus pears are not commonly found in big-name supermarkets. If you want to purchase them, head on down to your local farmers’ market or specialty produce store.

The first indicator of a fully ripe prickly pear is the absence of green on the fruit. The pears should be either fully red or fully yellow. Another sign to look out for would be to check the spines or glochids. Fully ripe prickly pears will have their spines fall off naturally, so check if there still spines firmly attached to the fruit.

The next part is tricky and should only be done if you have leather gloves on. Give the fruit a gentle squeeze. They should feel firm but have a bit of give to them. Very hard prickly pears are still underripe.

Tip: The gloves are there to protect you from any spines you might have missed or buried itself, it’s no fun getting stuck by a prickly pear spine.

Prickly Pear Production & Farming in Texas

Currently, there are no large-scale prickly pear farms in Texas. What we can see in farmers’ markets is from smaller growers that have taken the initiative to bring this local delicacy to market.

Since 1997, there has been a push to make prickly pear farming a reality but there has been very little response by growers with a lot of them preferring to grow proven high-value crops.

There are still several organizations that are actively pushing for the cultivation of prickly pears, and if you need more information you can contact the Texas Cactus Council or get in touch with Texas A&M for more information.

Pesticides:

If there’s one fruit that’s free from pesticides, it’s the prickly pear. The prickly pears are some of the hardiest plants on the planet with very little in the way of pests.

If you find any prickly pears in the market, there’s a very high possibility that those are organically grown.

Geography:

The prickly pear can grow almost anywhere as long as it has well-drained soil. While most people think that they’re desert plants, they can actually grow in USDA Hardiness zones 2 through 10. Yes, that isn’t a typo, that’s zone 2.

Prickly pears are undemanding plants. Just plant them and the only thing you have to worry about is them spreading too much.

Packaging:

Prickly pears are usually sent to market stalls immediately after harvest and are piled up like one would pile up avocadoes. If shipped to other locations, they are usually packed in cardboard boxes with no extra protective materials used.

Eating Prickly Pears

Prickly pears that are sold in markets will usually have their glochids or spikes removed. If picking your own, be sure to wear leather gloves to protect your hands from the glochids. The safest way to remove them would be to take a pair of tongs, and hold the prickly pear fruits above the stove and burn off the glochids.

Once you’re sure that the glochids are gone, slice off the top and bottom of the prickly pear. After taking the ends off, slice down vertically to get halves. Once they’re halved, it should be easy to peel the skin off and you’re left with the pear-shaped edible flesh within.

Tip: The prickly pear has small seeds that you will not be able to bite through but they are safe to swallow. Just like the watermelon, you can just spit them out or swallow them if you don’t mind.

Storage:

Prickly pears, when unripe, can be ripened on the countertop at room temperature for a couple of days. Fully ripe prickly pears should be stored inside the refrigerator for up to five days.

Do not wash prickly pears until you are ready to consume them.

While whole fruits can be frozen for storage, their texture will suffer and they will more often than not be useful as juice after freezing. If you have time, it is best to juice them first before freezing.

Cooking:

True to its name, the prickly pear fruit has the same culinary uses as actual pears. The fruit can be made into syrups (think maple syrup style) and glazes for grilled meat. It is also good for jams and jellies. It is also great consumed raw or added to fruit and green salads, as well as added to juices and smoothies.

Nutrition:

  • Carbs
    • The prickly pear has one of the lowest glycemic loads and glycemic indexes when it comes to fruit. The glycemic index is at 7 and the glycemic load is less than one, this means that prickly pear is extremely safe for people with diabetes to enjoy.
  • Fiber
    • A 100g serving of prickly pear contains more than 15% of the RDI for dietary fiber.
      • Dietary fiber helps relieve symptoms of constipation by absorbing water in the intestinal tract and bulking up to push waste out of the body.
      • Dietary fiber also helps lower cholesterol levels by lowering bad cholesterol levels.
      • Soluble fibers slow the absorption of sugar and reduce the risk of developing type-2 diabetes.
    • Vitamins and minerals:
      • The prickly pear contains modest amounts of various B-complex vitamins like pyridoxine, vitamin B-6, niacin, and riboflavin.
        • B-complex vitamins are essential for pregnant women and the fetus.
        • B-complex vitamins are also needed for older adults as age decreases the body’s ability to absorb B12 vitamins.
        • B12 is naturally found in seafood, eggs, dairy, and meat. Which makes B12 deficiency a reality for vegetarians and vegans. Consuming prickly pears can provide a moderate amount of B-complex vitamins and help combat this deficiency.
      • Prickly pears also provide 23% of the RDI for Vitamin C.
        • Vitamin C helps the body fight off infections and counter the effects of free radicals.
        • Vitamin C also promotes cell regeneration and helps wounds heal faster.

When Are Prickly Pears in Season in Texas?

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  • September
  • Oktober
  • November

One of the most salient benefits to eating seasonally is that you are effectively reducing your carbon footprint and supporting a more geographically sustainable food economy. We are rarely encouraged to think about the physical lengths our food travels before arriving on the market shelves. And all of this travel comes with a hefty environmental cost that is concealed from the consumer’s eye. Check other fruit and veg that’s in season in Texas.

Buy Local Farmfresh Prickly Pears in Texas Directly from the Producer

mapMarkerGreyCelina

Cartermere Farm

mapMarkerGreyHouston

Finca Tres Robles

mapMarkerGrey

Hat and Heart Farm

mapMarkerGreyEdinburg

Nature’s HeartLand Farm

mapMarkerGreyBrady

Wildwood Farm