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Top 5 Surprising Foods You May Have Never Tasted: Prickly Pears

Updated on January 30, 2010

This curious fruit is sometimes referred to as an Indian fig. The truth is that the prickly pear is neither a fruit nor a fig: it's a cactus. Originating in Mexico, the prickly pear went to Spain and was then introduced back to this part of the world by returning explorers. Most people have seen prickly pears at the supermarket but have never actually purchased one, as they look pretty fearsome!

Wow guests by serving thinly sliced, chilled prickly pear at your next gathering. Its refreshing taste is sure to be a crowd pleaser. Don't let the hairlike spikes found on the prickly pear deter you from enjoying it since preparation is relatively easy, given these step-by-step guidelines, which follow.

Nutritional Perks

Prickly pears contain an impressive amount of important nutrients. Eat a prickly pear and you'll take in just over 24 percent of the recommended Daily Value of vitamin C. Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which blocks the cell damage caused by free radicals. If left unchecked, free radicals can cause problems ranging from heart disease to cancer. Vitamin C is also beneficial for relieving the symptoms of a cold and fatigue. It may also help keep your blood pressure in check.

The magnesium in prickly pears helps turn food into energy and transmits electrical impulses across nerves and muscles. Magnesium is critical to healthy heart function and seems to protect against heart disease and high blood pressure. Prickly pears contain almost 22 percent of the Daily Value.

Prickly pears contain 3 grams of fiber. Fiber has been shown to be beneficial in lowering blood sugar levels in diabetics and promoting digestive health.

Selecting Prickly Pears

Depending on the variety and origin, prickly pears are either pear- or fig-shaped and colors range from pale yellow to orange to pink-magenta to bloodred. These variances in shape and color don't affect their taste or texture.

Always choose firm, unblemished fruit. Prickly pears sometimes develop mold, which usually indicates overripeness. Don't shy away from very firm prickly pears, since they can easily be ripened at home.You'll find prickly pears from September through May.

Storage and Handling

Because prickly pears may contain hairlike spikes, wear gloves when handling. If purchased unripe, ripen at room temperature; otherwise, refrigerate.

Preparation Pointers

Although many of the spikes that naturally grow on the prickly pear are removed before shipping, a few hairlike spikes still remain. So before handling, it's best to wear gloves.

Prickly pears are most commonly eaten thinly sliced. To begin, slice off the top and bottom of the fruit. Next, cut the fruit lengthwise, about 1/8-inch deep. Use 2 forks to peel back the skin. Slice.

Prickly pears taste best when they are fully ripe and served slightly chilled. You'll find prickly pears to be quite seedy. There's no harm in eating the seeds. In fact, they may help with digestion. In fact you'll find that almost any prickly pear enthusiast appreciates gobbling up the seeds. Personally I find the seeds an acquired taste that I haven't quite acquired yet.

Continued In Top 5 Surprising Foods You May Have Never Tasted: Broccoli Rabe


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    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto

      drbj: Thanks, I'll go check it out! :)

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 7 years ago from south Florida

      Of all the foods you have profiled, prickly pears are probably the only ones I have actually eaten and they are good as well as good for you. Thanks for the research. Wanted to give you a heads-up that I just wrote a new hub about choosing avatars and linked to you using your avatar as an example. 'Twas my pleasure and you can feel free to reciprocate any time.