How to Break Down Prickly Pears

Have you ever wondered How to Break Down Prickly Pears? I have always found them to be somewhat intimidating having until recently only seen them when attached to a very thorny cactus. It wasn’t until I moved to Texas’ Rio Grande Valley that I started seeing the de-spined cactus fruit in my local markets. Given my desire to encourage locally-sourced fresh produce, I figured it was about time I learn to break them down and prepare them!

A black stoneware bowl piled high with prickly pears before they are prepared.

👩🏻‍🍳 Tamara Talks – What is a Prickly Pear?

A prickly pear is a type of cactus belonging to the Opuntia genus, known for its distinctive flattened and oval-shaped pads or segments. These pads are often referred to as “nopales.” Prickly pears are native to the Americas and can be found in various regions, including North America, Central America, and parts of South America. I have seen them in Peru!

Having grown up on the southern US border, and spending all but 5 years of my 64 in border communities, the nopal cactus has always been a part of the local landscape. We had a couple of them in our desert landscape in New Mexico, and I’ll never forget when one of our young sons fell into one when he was balancing on the low rock wall next to it!

The most recognizable features of prickly pears are their spines and prickly glochids, which are small, hair-like structures that cover the pads and can cause irritation if touched. Worse yet, they can pierce the skin and be quite painful. The thinnest spines are hard to see, and even harder to remove. The interior of the fruit has many hard seeds that you probably don’t want to consume.

Despite their prickly exterior, prickly pear cacti produce delicious, colorful fruits. These fruits are typically pear-shaped, and come in shades of red, yellow, orange, and green, depending on the variety. I am most familiar with the red ones, and that is what we’ll be working on in this post.

Tunas, cactus Apples, or red cactus fruits

Prickly pears are referred to as “tunas” here in south Texas. You may know them as red cactus fruits or cactus apples. They are sweet and juicy, with a unique flavor that is a combination of watermelon, pear, and citrus notes. The fruits can be eaten fresh or used to make various culinary products, such as jams, jellies, candies, and beverages.

In addition to their edible fruits, many prickly pear species also have edible young pads (nopales), which are often cooked and used in salads, tacos, and other dishes in Mexican and southwestern cuisine.

📋 Ingredients Notes

Here is a quick look at the ingredients in the recipe – it’s handy to use at the grocery store or as a summary of what you need. Skip to the recipe for quantities.

  • prickly pears – Carefully examine your fruit’s condition! While fruit purchased at a market typically has the spines removed, you may have some fine, invisible spines. If so, you’ll want to wear kitchen gloves while you prepare them. If you forage for prickly pears, see this video for cleaning prickly pears or this article for cleaning and using prickly pears. Alternatively, place them in a paper bag and shake vigorously.

📹How to Break Down Prickly Pears Video

🔪 How to Extract Prickly Pear Pulp

Step 1 - Clean the prickly pear fruit, checking for spines.
  • Clean the prickly pears – Carefully inspect for spines (I highly recommend gloves!). If you feel like they’re clean, wash and dry them. If not, see this video for an easy way to get rid of them.
Step 2 on how to break down prickly pears - Slice the prickly pears in half lengthwise.
  • Slice the fruit – Using a very sharp knife and a cutting board on a flat surface, slice the fruit lengthwise.
  • Remove the fruit – Use a tablespoon or small scoop to scoop out the fruit, avoiding the bitter skin.
Step 3 - Press the pulp through a strainer to remove the hard seeds.
  • Remove the pulp – Using a flexible spatula, press the fruit against the strainer. This process requires patience to extract the pulp.
Step 4 - A glass bowl with the strained prickly pear pulp ready for use in your favorite recipe.
  • Store the strained pulp in a non-reactive container for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 12 months.
A flip-top glass bottle filled with magenta prickly pear pulp.
After breaking down 16 prickly pears | cactus apples | tunas, I wound up with 2 cups of fresh pulp.
I can’t wait to use it in a cocktail or a dessert!


What does prickly pear fruit taste like?

Prickly pear is sweet, ranging from mildly sweet to quite sweet depending on the species. I think it tastes a little bit like watermelon with a hint of citrus.

How can I use prickly pear pulp?

Use it in any way you use any other fruit pulp – in smoothies, sorbet or ice cream, cocktails, etc.

💭 Helpful Tips

Prickly pears may have invisible spines. Typically when you buy them at the market, the spines have been removed already. If you’re uncertain, you may want to wear kitchen gloves. In the video, I started with my gloves, but discarded them as I felt confident that my fruit were spine-free.

In selecting your prickly pears, choose the brightest fruit. They will not continue to ripen once harvested. The brightest fruit are the most ripe. They should give a little when pressed – similar to an avocado.

I am working on a “how to” video that will be added to this post in the near future… NOTE: Video is live on the post (above). Beyond that, I have started working on a frozen dessert, and posted this prickly pear martini. What would you think of a savory application like prickly pear sauce on chicken? Educating my readers about locally-sourced, less well-known ingredients is a passion of mine. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Signature in red and green with chiles and limes. Healthyish Latin cuisine.

A black stoneware bowl piled high with washed and dried cactus apples or tunas.

How to Break Down Prickly Pears

Just a few simple steps, and about 45 minutes are all you need to make fresh prickly pear pulp for your fresh recipes!
5 from 2 votes

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Prep Time 45 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Course Ingredient
Cuisine American, Mexican, Peruvian
Servings 2 cups
Calories 42 kcal


  • 16 prickly pears - tunas, cactus apples


  • Carefully inspect for spines. If you feel like they’re clean, wash and dry them.
  • Using a very sharp knife and a cutting board on a flat surface, slice the fruit lengthwise.
  • Use a tablespoon or small scoop to scoop out the fruit, avoiding the bitter skin.
  • Using a flexible spatula, press the fruit against the strainer. 
  • Store the strained pulp in a non-reactive container for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 12 months.


Yield for 16 prickly pears is about 2 cups… 


Calories: 42kcal

NOTE: Macronutrients are an approximation only using unbranded ingredients and Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.

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  1. Thanks for sharing your secret hacks! Can’t wait to try this in a cocktail. You won’t believe this but the first time we had prickly pear was in Italy… I know- crazy, right?

    1. It never would have occurred to me that you’d find prickly pear anything in Italy! That’s cool! Being a lifelong resident of the American Southwest, I always think of them in a desert environment… Thanks for sharing!