How to Clean a Prickly Pear Cactus

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A prickly pear cactus has two edible parts -- the fruit and pads.
A prickly pear cactus has two edible parts -- the fruit and pads. (Image: Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Getty Images)

In Mexican cuisine, the prickly pear cactus paddle is called nopales; when it is chopped up it is known as nopalitos. Before it gets to either stage, it must be cleaned. Prickly pear cactus paddles contain glochids -- fine, hair-like spines, or thorns, that detach easily when touched. Once in the skin, they cause itching and burning. Because they are so finely barbed, they are difficult to extract. Wear heavy gloves when cleaning prickly pear cactus and discard them when you are finished.

Things You'll Need

  • Heavy Gloves
  • Sharp knives

Cleaning the Pear

Remove the pear -- the fruit of the cactus -- from the plant by slicing it off at its base. Use a sharp knife to cut off both ends of the pear.

The fruit or "pears" of the cactus taste a bit like watermelon or bubblegum.
The fruit or "pears" of the cactus taste a bit like watermelon or bubblegum. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Hold the pear with one hand and use the other to slice the skin down its entire length. Don't slice too far into the fruit, just enough to peel the skin.

Use your fingers to peel the skin from the pear as you would peel an orange.

Cleaning the Nopales

Lay the paddle -- the flat pad of the cactus -- on the work surface.

Cut off 1 inch from the base of the paddle -- the area where it was connected to the plant. Discard the removed portion.

Use the knife, held at a 45-degree angle, to scrape the surface of the paddle to remove the glochids. If you can't remove them all like this, dig into the nodes with the knife and pry them out.

Peel the pad if the outer skin is tough. Use a sharp knife to peel it as you would a cucumber. Otherwise, wash the paddle in cool water before preparing it.

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