How to Eat a Prickly Pear Cactus: 10 Steps (with Pictures)

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How to Eat a Prickly Pear Cactus: 10 Steps (with Pictures)
How to Eat a Prickly Pear Cactus: 10 Steps (with Pictures)

The prickly pear cactus plant has been a staple in Mexico and Central America for thousands of years. In some parts of the United States, this plant is becoming known as an exotic and delicious addition to dishes. The prickly pear cactus plant has three edible parts: the cactus leaf (nopal) which can be processed like a vegetable, the cactus flower petals which can be added to lettuce and the edible part of the fruit (tuna) like fruit. This plant grows wild throughout the southwestern part of the Americas, down to South America and up to Canada. The leaves and fruit of the cactus you may find at your local grocery store or market usually come from commercial nopal farms.


  • Nopal (prickly pear leaf)
  • Prickly pear (Cactus fruit)
  • Pepper, salt, other spices


Method 1 of 2: Cactus or Nopal Leaves

Eat Prickly Pear Cactus Step 1
Eat Prickly Pear Cactus Step 1

Step 1. Buy or pick some cactus leaf pads

Read the Warning section. There is a reason why the cactus is called the prickly pear cactus.

  • Collect leaf bearings that are bright green and firm.
  • The young, small leaves of cactus harvested in early spring are considered the tastiest, freshest and least thorny leaves. The thicker the leaf, the older it is. Older leaf pads tend to be fibrous and have a thicker sap, so some people don't like them. Leave the old leaves for other animals to eat them to survive the famine. The soft foliage pads are sometimes sold as "baby nopal" (young nopal).
  • If you harvest these leaves yourself, wear very thick gloves or use tongs. Prune loose leaves from the plant or cut off the stems. Cutting the stems relieves stress on the leaves and allows the cactus to recover more quickly than cutting or plucking the leaves. This will help keep your cactus plant healthy for future harvesting.
Eat Prickly Pear Cactus Step 2
Eat Prickly Pear Cactus Step 2

Step 2. Remove the spines from the leaf pads using a vegetable peeler or fruit knife

Do not remove the gloves until all the leaves have been rinsed and the remaining peel has been removed. Cactus leaf bearings have not only large spines, but also small, invisible and more painful spines called glocids. These glocid spines are very difficult to remove from the skin. The spikes and glochids can also be removed from the leaves of prickly pear cactus fruit by burning them with a small torch or placing the leaves on a gas stove and turning them over with tongs. Read the warning section.

Eat Prickly Pear Cactus Step 3
Eat Prickly Pear Cactus Step 3

Step 3. Rinse the cactus leaves under cold running water

Peel or cut off any discolored or bruised areas.

Eat Prickly Pear Cactus Step 4
Eat Prickly Pear Cactus Step 4

Step 4. Slice or chop the leaf pads (wipe the blade after every cut as it could have tiny spines stuck to it), or leave it whole, depending on what you're using the nopal for

Eat Prickly Pear Cactus Step 5
Eat Prickly Pear Cactus Step 5

Step 5. Cook the nopal

Nopal or cactus leaf pads can be boiled or roasted, it can also be mixed with other ingredients to make unique, filling and healthy dishes.

  • If you boil the nopals, you may sometimes have to discard the cooking water and boil the leaves again one or two more times, depending on how thick the sap is. The thicker the leaf bearing, the thicker the sap.
  • Boiling cactus leaves in copper coins is a common way to thin the sap and make the taste more palatable to those who are not used to it.
  • The boiled nopal is then drained, washed in cold water and served as a salad with finely chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro and jalapenos. After that seasoned with vinegar, salt and lemon juice.
  • If you are roasting the nopals, you will need to sprinkle a generous amount of pepper, salt and other spices. Nopal is ripe when it is soft and slightly brown in color.
  • Slice of roasted nopalitos can be seasoned with a squeeze of fresh lemon and a little olive oil. You can also add roasted portobello mushrooms to the mixture.
  • Try adding cooked nopals to soups, mixing them in lettuce or an omelet, pickling them, or just eating them.
  • A popular traditional Mexican dish is "nopalitos en salsa verde" which is nopal leaves cut into strips and boiled in boiling water (see steps above) and then re-cooked in a traditional sauce made from tomatillos (which are often mistaken for tomatoes). green, but actually another fruit that grows under a thin epidermis), onions, garlic, cilantro and jalapeo peppers (make all sauce ingredients puree using a blender, then bring to a boil and continue simmering over low heat). This dish is usually eaten in soft tortillas as tacos or with chips.

Method 2 of 2: Prickly Pear aka Cactus Fruit

Eat Prickly Pear Cactus Step 6
Eat Prickly Pear Cactus Step 6

Step 1. Buy or pick some prickly pear cactus

  • Fruits with reddish orange or purple skin color and dark purple flesh color are considered the sweetest fruits. However, the white-skinned cactus is more popular in Mexico.
  • Store-bought prickly pear cacti are usually thorn-free and can sometimes be handled with your bare hands. Unprocessed fruit still has glycosides that will irritate you if they touch the skin. Just in case, always use tongs or at least a plastic bag as gloves.
  • If you're looking for prickly pear cactus fruit yourself, keep in mind that while all fruits are edible, only a few are actually ripe and tasty. Pick the cactus when it's bright purple and looks like mouse food, just before it starts to shrivel.
Eat Prickly Pear Cactus Step 7
Eat Prickly Pear Cactus Step 7

Step 2. Clean the spines

Put the cactus fruit in a plastic sieve five or six at a time under cold running water. Swirl the fruit in a colander for three or four minutes and don't bruise it. This step removes all the tiny thorns that are present, now you can hold them without getting stabbed by the thorns

Eat Prickly Pear Cactus Step 8
Eat Prickly Pear Cactus Step 8

Step 3. Peel the cactus

  • Once all the spines are clean, cut off the thicker skin on both ends of the prickly pear cactus fruit (bottom and top). It takes a little practice to know how much to cut. In general, you should peel the skin of the fruit without reaching the inside of the seed.
  • Cut lengthwise along the midline from the top to the bottom of the fruit, just right through the skin. With that slit, use a knife to pry out the skin and peel it off the pulp.
Eat Prickly Pear Cactus Step 9
Eat Prickly Pear Cactus Step 9

Step 4. Cut the fruit into slices, or stick them on a fork or skewer and serve

  • The flesh of the prickly pear cactus can be made into jams, jellies, sorbets, wine and "cactus candy".
  • The seeds can be consumed with the fruit (but be careful not to bite as the seeds are quite hard) or discarded.
  • Some people eat cactus seeds in soup or dry them to grind them into flour.
Eat Prickly Pear Cactus Final
Eat Prickly Pear Cactus Final

Step 5. Done


  • The taste of prickly pear cactus fruit is often similar to that of a kiwi fruit, but not as sour as a kiwi.
  • If you get pricked by a tiny thorn in your skin, don't bother using tweezers. Instead, apply a thin layer of Elmer's glue over the prickly skin. Allow the glue to dry until there is a solid layer on your hands, then peel off the layer. The thorns will be pulled off painlessly with the glue. This step also serves to remove wood chips. Glokids are actually prickly and will go deeper and deeper into your skin if you're not careful. If you don't have Elmer's glue and the glocid is getting more and more annoying, strong duct tape or tape can also remove it.
  • Ripe cactus or nopal leaf pads taste similar to peas. The leaves also have a texture reminiscent of bendi, something some people dislike but others do.
  • If you roast it over an open fire, the cactus spines will also burn. This measure can also be used to feed livestock in the short term.
  • The prickly pear cactus fruit is eaten not only in the United States and Mexico, but also in Mediterranean countries and Europe. In Italy, this fruit is often served in a bowl of cold water. In Malta, it is customary to refrigerate cactus fruit for a few hours in the refrigerator.
  • To find out more about the benefits and nutritional value of prickly pear cactus fruit, read the external links below.
  • To store nopal in the refrigerator, make sure the cactus leaves are fresh and not wrinkled. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Nopal can be stored for up to two weeks.
  • Buy your first cactus leaf. Don't pick it yourself. That way, you'll know what kind of leaves you should pick.
  • In some cases the glocid can be very easily removed from the leaf by rubbing it on a piece of thick cloth (eg on an old rag) that is no longer used. In addition, this article indicates that Native American tribes rubbed cactus leaf pads in the sand to release glocid. However, instead of "sand", they most likely used the dense sandy soil of the American southwest.
  • Harvest in the late afternoon or early morning when the leaf sap content is lowest.
  • Usually you can buy leaf bearings measuring 20 cm long (which is classified as small leaves) or cactus fruit measuring 10 cm long (which is classified as medium size). Anything larger than this size proved difficult to work with.


  • Some species of prickly pear cactus do not have spines, however all types of cacti have glokid.
  • If you harvest your own crops, always wear hand protection.
  • Be careful when removing the thorns from the plant. Or buy leaves or fruit that has been cleaned of thorns.
  • Beware the thorns of the cactus can pierce you and be very painful.
  • It's a good idea to hold the cactus leaf with tongs or another remote gripper, unless you're wearing very thick gloves.

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