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.
Check out this fun recipe for using cactus pear…it’s great if you’re new to using cactus pear!
Cara Caras was first discovered in 1976 in Venezuela. It results from a cross mutation of an original navel orange and a Brazilian Bahia navel orange. However, they didn’t make it to the US until the 1980s, and they were only sold in select specialty markets. It wasn’t until the last ten years or so that we started seeing more and more of them in the large chain stores..and with good reason!
A Cara Cara is truly just as beautiful on the inside as the outside. They have the same round shape as an original navel and the same bright color, but what really sets them apart is on the inside. They have that distinctive ruby red color, similar to a grapefruit but with a sweet berry flavor. Compared to navels, Cara Cara’s are sweeter and less acidic. Top that off with even more vitamin C than a traditional navel, and you’ve got a real winner! They are also quite the trending fruit on social media.
Another show stopper is the Blood orange. Despite their gruesome name, they are a sweet and lovely piece of citrus. Blood oranges originated in Sicily and were reserved for royalty in the 9th and 10th centuries because of their rich color and flavor. They finally made their way to US markets in 1908 by Frank Meyer.
Blood oranges are similar to a navel from the outside but sometimes has streaks or marking of red coloring on their skin. Break it open, and you’ll find an exquisite deep red-colored fruit and juice. The red color is the result of anthocyanin. Anthocyanin is the pigment that gives the red color to blood oranges. It develops when the oranges ripen in warmer daytime temperatures and cooler nights, a Mediterranean climate, so to speak. The color first starts to appear along the edges of the peel and then follows the edges of the segment before coloring the flesh. When and where they grew determines whether blood oranges are lined, streaked with red, or fully blood-colored.
Blood oranges, Cara Caras, and of course, Washington navels grow perfectly in our California climate, as is proven by Eliza Tibbet. In fact, one of the original California navel trees is still standing today in Riverside, California. It is on the corner of Magnolia and Arlington avenues and is a living tribute to one of US history’s most significant agricultural finds. If you’re ever in the area, you should definitely stop by and check it out. Before you get any ideas of stealing a piece of fruit, think again, an iron fence protects it. Besides, I’m pretty sure you know where to get some navels without stealing (ahem…Westlake).