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How to Use the Nopal and Cactus Pear Fruit in Raw Food Recipes

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nopal cactus with fruit

In Northern California it’s cactus pear season right now. You might have seen these colorful little spiny cactus fruits around, but weren’t sure how to eat them. Well here is a little guide to these delicious and nutritious prickly pear fruits and their stems, also known as nopales.

 yellow cactus pear

The fruit of the nopal cactus are commonly called prickly pear fruit, cactus figs, cactus pears, Indian figs, or tuna. I have seen them in many color variations including a bright deep magenta, light yellow, light orange, and light green. They are available in California in early fall and are generally available only in the western hemipshere, such as the West of the United States, Mexico, Southern Europe, and South Africa. Tunas grow mostly in desert, semi-desert, grasslands, and Mexico has the most species. They are very hardy plants and in some places they grow like weeds. In California I have seen them growing wildly, in neighbor’s yards, at my local farmer’s market, and Mexican Super Markets.

  • Besides tasting lovely, both the fruits and pads of the prickly pear cactus are rich in slowly absorbed soluble fibers that supposedly help keep blood sugar stable and the fruit contain a high amount of antioxidants.

yellow cactus pear spilt in half

It is really important that you purchase them de-spined; if you do pick them yourself be extremely careful. And never ever eat the skin! If you cut them in half they have some really great fruit inside that you can easily scoop out. The fruit inside is full of super hard seeds that you can swallow, but I prefer to blend the cactus fruit and then strain out the seeds with a fine mesh strainer or sprout bag.

  •  The fruit tastes like a cross between a pear and a melon with the consistency of a mealy watermelon. It makes for a great drink like the one below:

 cactus pear non alcoholic drink

This is a great non alcoholic drink, super light, refreshing, and delicious!


2 cactus pears fruits (sliced in half with the fruit scooped out)
1 cup young coconut water
squeeze of lime

Make sure to scoop out the fruit from the cactus pear. Do not eat the skins! Blend the nopal cactus pear meat and the coconut water in a blender for 10-20 seconds and then squeeze the mixture through a sprout bag to strain out the seeds. Top with a squeeze of lime if desired. Makes about 16 ounces.

Click here to learn how to open a coconut

Nopales: The Stem of The Cactus Pear

Nopales, also known as prickly pear cactus or paddle cactus are actually the stems of the cactus pears. They have a slight tart flavor and a crisp yet mucilaginous consistency. In traditional Mexican cuisine they are usually cooked, but I have found them a nice addition to smoothies and blended soups. Just make sure you remove the spines first!

  • Nopales are very rich in insoluble and especially soluble dietary fiber.
  • They are also rich in vitamins (especially vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K, but also riboflavin and vitamin B6) and minerals (especially magnesium, potassium, and manganese, but also iron and copper). Source:

 They are more widely available than the cactus pears, and you can find them at almost any supermarket in California and especially in Mexican Markets. Sometimes you can find them with the spines already removed and in little bags already chopped up for you. Just be aware that you must use the cacti without spines very quickly as they are vulnerable to bacteria.

If you do buy them with the spines, it is easy to take the spines off with a good sharp chef’s knife. I like to first cut my cactus in half and chop of the top, bottom, and sides to remove the spines. Then I lay the knife flat against the cactus and remove the top layer of skin along with the spines.

removing cactus spines

 This is what it should look like after the spines are removed:

cactus after removing the spines

Then I chop them up and use them in a smoothie. Here is a good one:

 Cantaloupe Cactus Cooler

 cantalope cactus cooler

1 Nopal Cactus Leaf (spines removed)
2 cups coconut water
2 cups chopped Cantaloupe
2-4 drops liquid Stevia
squeeze lime

Carefully remove spines from the nopal cactus and chop into pieces. Add all ingredients into the blender except for the lime. Taste for desired sweetness and top off with a squeeze of lime. Makes about 32 ounces.

 I had this for breakfast the other day, mmmmmm! The melon seemed to digest well with the cactus for me.

 I hope I’ve encouraged you to not be scared of the prickly pear cactus and maybe even try your hand at eating one soon:)


More Reading:
Tasty cactus pears keep fans a-prickle
Nopal on Foodista


1 - Raw Food in The News and Around The Web { 10.01.09 at 6:15 pm }

[…] How to Use the Nopal and Cactus Pear Fruit in Raw Food Recipes […]

2 Katie's Adventures { 10.04.09 at 11:14 am }

YUM! I saw prickly pear at the store the other day and wondered what I could do with it!

3 Cecilia { 10.06.09 at 2:50 pm }

Glad I could help sweetie!

4 leoarchitect { 11.06.09 at 2:45 am }

this was quite helpful, as there are a lot of this cactus fruits growing in our back yard, and i was wonderingif they can be used any ways. thanks a lot.
vishal jsohi,rajkot, gujarat, india.

5 cecilia { 11.11.09 at 1:00 pm }

You are so lucky! Glad I could be of service:)

6 FatehBolivar { 11.13.09 at 9:10 pm }


I found your blog and felt naturally connected to you and what you have done, as I also cleared my asthma by changing my diet and doing Yoga, I have created a sacred space in Costa Rica, the Waterfall Villas – for hosting A Healing Journey. I have been helping many people transition to a Vegan and raw food life style as part of shier healing with fantastic results. I am what you might call a food intuitive and I do custom programs for each guest, My Yogi once told me that I could cure people with a cucumber and that was when I knew I could do this, Do you have some knowledge you can share about transitions? Love from the rainforest, Fateh

7 A Cactus is Edible?!? « The Bitten Brownie { 11.14.09 at 8:07 am }

[…] For some raw food recipes or more information about preparing a cactus, check out “How to Use the Nopal and Cactus Pear Fruit in Raw Food Recipes.” […]

8 Cecilia { 11.18.09 at 12:13 pm }

You are so lucky to have them in your backyard! I hope now you get a chance to enjoy them.

9 Cecilia { 11.18.09 at 12:17 pm }

Sounds like what you are doing is wonderful! There is a lot to say about transitions, but I would say that people need faith and hope that they can change and that their bodies will heal. Faith and hope are the first steps to healing in my opinion.

10 Cecilia { 11.18.09 at 7:13 pm }

You are so lucky to have them in your backyard! I hope now you get a chance to enjoy them.

11 Cecilia { 11.18.09 at 7:17 pm }

Sounds like what you are doing is wonderful! There is a lot to say about transitions, but I would say that people need faith and hope that they can change and that their bodies will heal. Faith and hope are the first steps to healing in my opinion.

12 Satori { 07.02.10 at 3:27 am }

just found some wild prickly pear. I am a raw-vegan and was excited and unfortunatly ate some of it before skinning it…. But when i got home i read this article. It taught me how to propley eat and prepare it. THANK YOU! =) this was very helpful!

13 Cecilia { 07.02.10 at 7:35 pm }

Hi Satori,
I hope you are okay! Glad I could help. I have stung my hands before while picking them, they are nothing to mess around with!

14 noDUIrides { 08.07.10 at 7:32 pm }

I have a yard full of them. I'll have to adapt the way to make vodka from them!

15 Gloria Cesaire { 03.25.11 at 11:26 pm }

very informative, today was my first time eating a prickly pear. Enjoyed it very much.

16 Cecilia { 07.27.11 at 1:33 am }

Hi Gloria, thanks for sharing. They are a fun fruit aren’t they?

17 { 09.26.11 at 3:21 am }

Thank you for sharing your personable knowledge on the Nopales plant. I am currently growing the Prickly Pear in my garden in northern ca, and was wondering about the preparation of both the Nopales leaves and the colorful fruits.

18 Glorious Temple { 11.15.11 at 12:27 am }

We have them growing in our yard here in Central VA.  Just picked some purple fruit and ate a bunch, (did not peel?).  Sweet with a slight melon flavor.  I planted it years back from a potted plant someone gave me.  It had been left behind by the previous tenant.  It has multiplied, grows low to the ground. Have not tried the pods yet.  It’s fall here… there are some babies, may pick one instead of waiting till spring, if the froze does not get them… we are expecting the temps to go to 29 tonight.   Enjoyed your article… will definitely try some of the ones I picked in a smoothie.  I am into wild crafting and simple living myself… grow my own foods and preserve them in a variety of ways.

19 Tracie Compeau { 11.30.11 at 5:06 am }

This cactus helps me to control my fybromialgia symptoms.  It can help with the whole bodies levels of inflamation.  Hope that might help someone as much as it has me.

20 Tracie Compeau { 11.30.11 at 5:06 am }

This cactus helps me to control my fybromialgia symptoms.  It can help with the whole bodies levels of inflamation.  Hope that might help someone as much as it has me.

21 Gary { 12.09.11 at 3:45 am }

I am wanting to use the nopal fruit as a drink, I see ads for Nopaleas “Trivita” but too expensive. I read here that I have to peel the skin from the fruit before blending them. Is that correct or can I just blend the tuna w/ some pineapple juice for flavor and water. I can find the fruits as I live in El Paso. Also as I have diabetes and neuralgia and I want to reduce the inflamation and my pain. How often and how much of the drink do I take the juice?

22 Cecilia { 01.18.12 at 6:02 pm }

I always peel the cactus fruit because of the little spines. You will need to contact a natural health practitioner such as a N.D. to find the exact dosage for your conditions. Best Wishes ~ Cecilia

23 Cecilia { 01.18.12 at 6:03 pm }

Thank you for sharing, that is wonderful!

~ Cecilia

24 In kia { 04.03.12 at 4:37 am }

what amazed more about the nopalea juice from privita was the instant healing i experienced from my vertigo.  have almost been in bed for weeks.  i went to emergency and antivert was prescribed for me but it was just making it worse.  i spoke to a friend about my health, andshe gave me half bottle of it for me to try it.  one morning i just pour myself a few ounces and drank it, and came to bed, after a few minutes, i got up to go to sitting room and there was no vertigo again to date.  it is almost two weeks now and i have not felt any vertigo again.  i thank God and also thank the discoverers of this wonderful plant. 

25 Jule { 04.07.12 at 2:32 pm }

Cecilia, I just purchased some cactus with the spines cut off and now I am boiling them to make a cactus juice.  Even though I checked for spines and cut in large chunks before boiling, I do worry that I may still swallow a spine or two.  What will happen if I do this by accident?

26 Cecilia { 04.09.12 at 11:39 am }

Why take the chance, strain the juice in a fine strainer.

27 Rhondap2428 { 07.31.12 at 9:33 pm }

Thanks for sharing. I, too, have suffered with vertigo. Ginger tablets prevent vertigo as well. A friend of mine told me about ginger. I’ve been taking it for over two month or three months without any episode of vertigo. But I can’t wait to try nopalea juice as an alternative.

28 Wendell Prindle { 08.26.12 at 3:30 am }

I tried a bottle of Nopalea, great stuff. My pain over all was reduced by more than 1/4 but didn’t last more than 4 hours 3oz 3x a day. first day., my wife had a 8 oz the first day.  Second day we nearly polished of the rest. My wife noticed very little releif.The bottle was $35. I went to a mexican grocery store found the figs at 6 for a $1,so bought 1 dozen red ones juiced them skined . I got about 24 oz of juice. Then a couple days later I bought 24,12 reds and 12 green ones. Didn’t get as much juice out of the green ones. I bought a new jucier more juice less pulp.I buy 30 red ones at a time now. I juice  4 skined fruit yeild is about 9oz for my wife she has R.A.and doing better. I’m too cheap to throw the skins away, so i juice 5 skins run 1 figs after to clean the slime out of the juicer yeild is about 10oz. I do this twice a day. Then mix it with vita rain or cherry cider, green tea to thin it out. I don’t juice them all at once, cause I saw longer than 24 hours  ahead the enzimes die and the skin juice is so thick it will gel up way too much. I also saw the skins can cause stomach ache, colin dump within 2 hours,guess I have a cast iron stomach didn’t happen to me.We’re doing a bit over quart a day,and getting better results now after  2 weeks about 50%. Still not pain free but much better  About $.05 per oz opposed $1.09 per oz. About $1.58 for the juice $1.76 for the vita rain we get at cosco’s. $2.40 for fuel,or $5.74 a day. I may increase to 3x a day.  Decrease or /increase amount at a time to see if I can get better and longer relief.

29 Kristy { 10.29.12 at 9:06 pm }

I am trying to find out WHY you cannot eat the outer skin of the cactus pear. I have been including the skin in my daily juicing and read somewhere you should always peel the skin and use only the inner part. do you know if the skin is actually bad for you? I cannot find any info anywhere in my research!!

30 Cecilia { 11.21.12 at 10:01 am }

Hi Kristy,
The skin can make you sick, I do not recommend eating it. ~ Cecilia

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