The prickly pear, cactus fruit, or tuna in Spanish, is the next stop on my fruit eating adventure, since it was available at my neighbourhood Save On Foods (so far easy adventures are my thing). This fruit grows from the opuntia cactus, and in nature has small hair-like spines, like the fuzz on a kiwi fruit, called glochids. I noticed mine had some under a sticker covering one of the bumpy parts, so I think this is where they grow out of, although generally the ones you buy in the store will (hopefully) have them removed. I’d probably recommend taking care when you handle them anyway, just in case a few pointy nasties remain.
So, how do you eat these well defended fruit? Internet opinion seems to agree that you want to first wash the fruit and cut off the top and bottom. Then cut a shallow line from top to bottom and lift up the skin along the slice so that you can peel it off, which is what I did, so it will pull off in one big piece. You can also cut it right in half and try to scoop out the centre seeds and then eat with a spoon, but the one I had was much like the one below, and the seeds were riddled most of the way through, kind of like a watermelon, so I’m not sure exactly how you would scoop them out without wasting the fruit.
They come in red, yellow and green varieties. I got one that was quite green, and it remained green for a while, so I thought that it might be a green type. Once I cut it I realized that I was wrong, since the inside was red, so I think I may not have let it ripen quite enough, and closer inspection of the outside showed there was some pink along the one side. I wonder if the seeds might have been more scoopable if I had left it longer, so I’ll have to see if this changes for next time.
The fruit inside was pretty awesome, ripe or not, and my favourite so far. It had the consistency of a watermelon, or regular pear, and tasted kind of like a mild melon/berry/ pomegranate mix. I ate the seeds, since they are edible, but if you do be careful, as they are quite hard. On-line opinion seems to agree that this is a great fruit to juice, either on it’s own or to mix with other drinks like lemonade or margaritas, and it is also used to make candies, jelly and salsa. After finding this out I’m definitely going to try juicing some next time as I think it would be awesome!
An interesting side thing about this plant is that it’s juice is also extremely red (well, in the red variety anyway, ha ha) and could be used like a beet to make dye called betanin or E162. Remarkably enough, some of the scale insects that are used to also make red dye feed off this cactus plant. Their dye is called Carmine, E120, Cochineal, Natural red 4 and Crimson Lake on packaging – sadly making these red dyed products potentially non-vegetarian, depending on where you draw your lines, and definitely not on the menu for your friendly neighbourhood vegans. It’s interesting that crumbled bugs create a more stable, and thus widely used, dye…interesting in a kind of gross-we-probably-don’t-want-to-think-about-the-weird-stuff-they-put-in-our-food kind of way…
Anyway! Have you tried a prickly pear? Ever been surprised by a tuna that wasn’t of the swimming variety? Perhaps you’ve tried some prickly pear flavoured foods or beverages? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Happy fruiting!