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CINCO DE MAYO: Prickly Pears


Prickly pears, a.k.a. cactus pears. Photo


Now that it’s May 1, we’ve got four days to focus on Cinco de Mayo culinary tributes. For sure, we’ll bring on the salsa and the cocktails.

But first, here’s a fresh idea that may take some hunting: prickly pear salad dressing. Check Latino and International markets for the fruit (or you can purchase them online at

A popular food in Mexico, prickly pears, also known as cactus pears, are the fruit of several species of cactus (most particularly, Opuntia ficus-indica and Opuntia tuna). The fruits have been used in Mexico both for food and medicinal cures since prehistoric times.

Prickly pears have a purple-red or green exterior with soft, ruby-red or golden colored flesh and tiny, edible seeds. They are low in calories—just 40 calories each—very high in dietary fiber, magnesium and vitamin C and high in calcium, potassium, riboflavin and vitamin B6.

  • Prickly pears are typically served cold in fruit salads—the Mexican alternative to kiwi, peeled and sectioned with the seeds.
  • For dessert, they can be sprinkled with brown sugar, lime juice and topped with whipped cream.
  • Prickly pears are used to make candies, jelly, tea, liqueur and other beverages.
  • The stems or pads, called nopales [the Aztec/Nahuatl name for the cactus], are sliced, diced and cooked for use in Mexican egg dishes, tacos, salads and other recipes.
  • Whatever you make, be sure to peel the “pears” carefully to remove any small needles.


    This vinaigrette becomes pink with the addition of prickly pear puree. Use it on green salads and fruit salads. Makes 1 cup. Recipe courtesy Ida Rodriguez |


  • 1/2 cup prickly pear, puréed
  • 1/3 cup salad oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar or substitute
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Shake all ingredients in a covered jar.

    While you’re at it, make this refreshing prickly pear sorbet.

    Find more of our favorite fruits and fruit recipes.

    Related Food Videos: For more food videos, check out The Nibble's Food Video Collection.

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