Add some desert flavor to your drinks and desserts with Prickly Pear Simple Syrup. Made from real cactus pears, this bold-colored syrup is simple to make and easy to mix with.
This post contains affiliate links. If you click on one and buy something, Feast + West receives a small commission at no additional cost to you. All opinions are our own. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Prickly Pear Simple Syrup recipe
Prickly pear cacti don’t really grow natively here in North Carolina like they do out west. They always seemed exotic to me, a fixture of jungle movies.
So when I took trips to Arizona and Texas and saw prickly pear margaritas on the menu, I had to have them.
That’s when I fell in love with this fruit and what it can do. The sweet, earthy, melon-like flavor of the cacti’s fruit is a delightful match for tequila and citrus.
When I discovered I could order some of these magenta beauties to my home, I absolutely did and making simple syrup was the first order of business.
Why you’ll love this recipe
Prickly pears bring so much flavor to drinks and desserts. I think you are going to love making this syrup from scratch.
- Got your hands on some prickly pears? Simple syrup is a great way to use them up.
- Though you can buy prickly pear syrup, making your own is a great way to control sweetness for a healthier option.
- You can add it to cocktails, use it as pancake syrup or drizzle it over ice cream.
What is a prickly pear?
Prickly pear fruit, AKA cactus pears or tunas, are the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, known as the Opuntia cactus and called nopal in Spanish.
The cacti’s shape resembles a series of flat, green ovals stacked on top of each other. They have defensive spines and beautiful flowers. It has uses in both medicine and food.
In fact, the whole cactus can be eaten. In Mexico and the Southwest United States, the cactus itself is stripped of its tiny spines, boiled and eaten as a vegetable called nopalitos. The fruit, nicknamed the tuna, can also be eaten raw or cooked into dishes.
The flesh of the prickly pear is filled with lots of seeds, which are tough on the teeth but completely edible. With a hard shell on the outside, it has the texture of kiwi fruit or melon. It tastes earthy and sweet, with a slight flavor of bubblegum.
Although the fruit inside is succulent, tunas are covered in tiny, hairlike thorns called glochids. Most retailers will remove the thorns, but if they’re fresh from the cactus — be careful! They easily dislodge in your skin and should be handled with gloves or tongs. These tiny needles should not be messed with!
You only need three simple ingredients to make this delicious syrup.
Depending on where you live, you might find the prickly pear cactus fruit at your grocery store. You might also find them in specialty shops. Cactus fruits are in season from late summer through early winter, September through December.
The first time I ever had ripe prickly pears on their own, they were from a roadside stand in South Africa. I didn’t know better and picked up the fruit with my bare hands. The fine hairs got stuck in my fingers and were so sore for a few days. It was NOT nice!
Don’t be like me: Make sure you are careful not to get pricked by using gloves or tongs to handle the fruit. You can also remove the spines yourself.
Most tunas are a deep reddish purple color, but they can also be shades of yellow, orange and green, even as ripe fruit.
Granulated sugar and cane sugar are my recommendations for this syrup since it will allow for the best rosy red color.
However, you can use agave nectar, maple syrup, brown sugar or honey instead, though any of those may affect the color of the syrup.
A little bit of fresh lime juice adds some citrus flavor to this syrup. The citric acid helps to keep it fresh, too. Use lemon juice instead if you like.
Filtered water or distilled water will give you the best, purest results, but tap water is totally fine.
For simple syrup, you typically need as much sugar as you do water, but this recipe is a little different.
We will first boil water and prickly pear fruit together to get a reduced raspberry juice, then strain out the solids. Then we will stir in the sugar to make the syrup.
How to make Prickly Pear Syrup
Cactus pear simple syrup is a pretty easy recipe, with only a little preparation. It’s a little more complicated than regular simple syrup, but not much. Here’s what to do:
First, remember to avoid the thorns of the prickly pears: Wear thick gloves or use tongs or a fork to place the fresh fruits on a cutting board. Then cut off the ends of the fruit and slice them lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop out the inside of the tuna fruit and separate it from the hard shell.
Place the peeled fruit and water in a medium saucepan. Heat together for 15 minutes, until the liquid is a deep color. The fruit will cook down into a prickly pear pulp. However, if you notice any big chunks, you can use a potato masher
Strain out the fruit and hard seeds with a fine-mesh strainer or a couple of layers of cheesecloth. and return the strained juice to the saucepan. Discard the remaining fruit.
Stir in sugar until dissolved. Remove from heat.
Let cool to room temperature and stir lime juice into the prickly pear mixture. Use immediately or store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.
Variations and substitutions
There are a number of ways to switch up this homemade prickly pear syrup.
Sugar-free prickly pear syrup: Use your favorite sugar substitute like Stevia to sweeten this syrup.
Agave prickly pear syrup: Use agave nectar to sweeten the fruit syrup — this is great for margaritas especially!
Mint prickly pear syrup: Add in 20 fresh mint leaves when you add the sugar to the warm mixture. Steep for 30 minutes, then remove. Perfect for mojitos!
Prickly Pear Cocktails
Try it in a classic old-fashioned cocktail.
Muddle it with mint to make a prickly pear mojito.
Add it to a champagne cocktail.
Stir up some Sparkling Prickly Pear Cactus Slush Punch.
For a mocktail, make an Italian soda with your tuna syrup and club soda.
Other uses for Prickly Pear Simple syrup
There are so many ways to use this cactus pear syrup! Here are a few ideas:
- Stir it into lemonade to make prickly pear lemonade.
- Add it to iced tea.
- Pour it over vanilla ice cream or other desserts.
- Drizzle it over pancakes, waffles or French toast.
More simple syrup recipes
- Raspberry Simple Syrup
- Peach Simple Syrup
- Strawberry Simple Syrup
- Vanilla Simple Syrup
- Demerara Simple Syrup
- 4 prickly pears
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup lime juice
- Halve prickly pears with a sharp knife. Scoop out the fruit and seeds from the fruits and place in a measuring cup. You'll need about 1 cup of pulp.
- Add the pulp and water to a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer for 30 minutes.
- Strain out pulp and seeds with a fine-mesh strainer. Wipe out the saucepan.
- Return the liquid to clean saucepan. Return heat to medium and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Remove from heat and do not let boil.
- Let cool completely. Stir in lime juice.
- Use immediately or store in an airtight, food-safe container such as a mason jar.
Use tongs or gloves to handle prickly pears and avoid the spiky glochids.
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1 ounce
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 95Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 5mgCarbohydrates: 24gFiber: 3gSugar: 17gProtein: 1g