Region of Origin

Commodity:

Cactus Pear

Description & Origin

Cactus pears are the fruit of cacti in the genus opuntia, the most widespread and commercially important cactus type. The tree-like cactus has wide, thick paddles covered in thorns (the paddles, called nopales, are also eaten). The oblong, egg-shaped fruits grow on the end of each paddle. The size and color, usually green, yellow, or red, vary by cultivar. While most commercially grown varieties a...

Other Names

Prickly Pear, Cactus Fig, Indian Fig, Paddle Cactus, Opuntia, Tuna (Spanish)

Health Benefits & Nutrition

Cactus pears are an excellent source of vitamin C. They are also a good source of vitamins E and K, fiber, beta-carotene, and flavonoids. Each color of cactus pear contains a unique array of antioxidant compounds.

They are high in water content and have been used for thousands of years as a source of water during the dry season in the desert. The fruits have also been used in traditional medicine in Mexico to treat a number of conditions, from burns to hangovers. There is some evidence that extracts from all parts of the opuntia cactus may have some ability to lower blood sugar, although it has not yet been confirmed as a therapy for diabetes.

Our Varieties

Yellow Cactus Pear

Description

Yellow cactus pears have golden yellow skin with yellow-orange or pink blushing. The juicy, semi-translucent flesh of the fruit is vivid yellow-orange and filled with many edible, hard seeds. They have a mildly sweet flavor that combines the refreshing flavor of melon with hints of citrus and grape. Yellow cactus pear varieties are among the most prominent in Mediterranean regions including Sicily and Northern Africa.

Variety Tips & Tricks

Yellow cactus pears are often sold by street vendors in Morocco and Sicily, where the flesh is peeled back for consumption like a popsicle then and there.

Commercial Availability (Grown for the US Market)

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MEXICO
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Fair

Red Cactus Pear

AKA: Cactus apple, Barbary, Tunda fruit, Prickly pear, Indian fig

Description

Red cactus pears should have thick, deep red skin with no remaining green patches. The flesh is deep red, almost purple, and full of their characteristic hard, but edible, seeds. The fruit is juicy and sweet with distinct hints of berry.

Variety Tips & Tricks

Red cactus pear pulp is very deep in color and can stain! Use gloves and caution when handling. The beautiful magenta color of red cactus pear pulp can be used to add character to many kinds of drinks, including lemonades, margaritas, and more.

Commercial Availability (Grown for the US Market)

Jan
Feb
Mar
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May
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Aug
Sep
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MEXICO
Fair
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Good
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Fair

Green Cactus Pear

Description

Green cactus pears have thick, bright green skin with yellow blushing. The flesh of the fruit is pale green to yellow and full of tiny edible seeds. They are very juicy and lightly sweet with notes of pear, grape, and watermelon.

Variety Tips & Tricks

Cactus pears are picked ripe, but you can wait for the flesh to soften on the counter if it is firmer than desired. Green cactus pears do not stain like red ones do when handled.

Commercial Availability (Grown for the US Market)

Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec
MEXICO
Fair
Fair
Good
Good
Good
Good
Good
Good
Fair

Foodservice Tips

Traditional Culinary Uses

Cactus pears are most commonly consumed raw, as a snack, often peeled and served in wedges. They do contain many seeds that are traditionally swallowed whole without chewing, which can be awkward for those new to the fruit. For additional uses, the seeds can be strained from the flesh and the resulting pulp used in agua frescas, juices, sorbets, syrups, jams, jellies, pastes, and more. In Mexico, the pulp is also fermented and turned into an alcoholic beverage.

Flavor Pairings

Orange, Lemon, Lime, Banana, Watermelon, Avocado, Tomato, Onion, Jalapeno, Cilantro, Mint, Yogurt, Egg, Chicken, Shrimp, Pepper, Salt, Tequila, Olive Oil

How to Store & Use in the Kitchen

Cactus pears are picked ripe, but can be softened at room temperature for a few days if juicier flesh is desired. For longer storage, refrigerate cactus pears for up to one week.

 

Always use gloves or a towel when handling cactus pears as some glochids (fine thorns) may still remain. the ends should be cut off and the skin scored down the side of the fruit. The thick, leathery skin can be peeled back from the flesh and is ready to use. The pulp can be frozen for later use.

Fight Food Waste Tips for root to stem cooking

Consider incorporating nopales, the paddles of the opuntia cactus, into a menu alongside the cactus pear to utilize more than one part of the same plant.

Warehouse Storage & Handling

Maintain these conditions for optimal short-term storage shelf life.*

IDEAL STORAGE TEMP:

41-46°F

RECOMMENDED TEMP STORAGE ZONE:

40-54°F (Cool Storage)

SUBJECT TO CHILLING INJURY:

Yes – when stored below 41°F cactus pear can display pitting, surface bronzing, dark spots, and decay.

RELATIVE HUMIDITY:

90-95%

PRODUCES ETHYLENE:

No

SENSITIVE TO ETHYLENE:

No

RIPENS AFTER HARVEST:

No

PROFESSIONAL RIPENING RECOMMENDED:

No

Quality Assessment

Cactus pears should be firm and plump with smooth skin and free from cuts, pitting, or wrinkling.

Important Handling Notes

Be gentle with cactus pears, they bruise quickly. Be aware that cactus pears may still contain some fine thorns (glochids) that are very difficult to see – handle with caution.

Optimum Shelf Life

Depending on variety, conditions at harvest, and handling, cactus pears may last 2-5 weeks.

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