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Prickly Pear

Names can be deceiving, which is the case with the prickly pear. Although it is prickly, it is not a pear!  These neon fruits are native to Mexico, but you’ll see them growing wild all over California and Arizona.  They are a kitchen staple in most Latin American households but not so much in American kitchens.  However, they are gaining notoriety in the US due to their superfood status.  They’re one of the most nutrient-packed fruits, high in vitamin C, calcium, antioxidants, and dietary fiber. 


They are definitely a fruit I used to look at sideways in the produce section, but one look at the inside, and I knew I had to get over it and just buy the darn fruit.  Cactus pears come in various colors, from bright lime green to vibrant yellow, orange, and beet red. Just know the colors are a natural variation and do not indicate maturity.  


When shopping, the prickly pear can also be known as cactus pear (which is a way better name), and in Spanish, they are called tunas.  The fruit grows on the rounded edges of cactus paddles and has a thick skin covered in small spines called glochids.  These tiny hair-like spines are a real prickly sort of thorn.  They resemble little eyelashes and look soft to the touch. They detach easily and lodge in your skin with the slightest brush. 


Most commercially sold cactus pears will have already been cleaned but still handle with lots of care.  The easiest method for removing the microscopic spines is to burn them off.  Hold the fruit over a gas stove or grill flame, and rotate over the open flame using tongs.  Since the spines are so small, they are quickly sizzled off!  Still, use gloves when handling the fruit.  It is almost impossible to remove every last one!  


Once cleaned, cut the fruit at both ends, make a few vertical slices, and peel away the skin.  The pulpy flesh is now ready to eat or be used for a variety of dishes and drinks!  The flesh is filled with completely edible seeds, a bit like the crunch of a pomegranate seed.  Raw cactus pear is tastiest when it’s cold, so store yours in the fridge even before peeling and slicing. The raw fruit can be pureed and strained and used as juice: a popular ingredient with bartenders. It is also commonly cooked and reduced with sugar to make a syrup that’s used in cocktails, sauces and drizzled over shaved ice. 

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