How to Make Prickly Pear Cactus Juice (or Syrup/Recipe)

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Prickly pear cactus (opuntia) juice/syrup adds a delicious low sodium zing to favorite libations (iced tea, margarita), or as part of a dish.

No matter what the color (variety) making prickly pear juice is actually a very straightforward process, far less daunting than one would expect.  If you want to know more about prickly pears, we’ve been blogging about them all week: The Prickly Pear: Opuntia Ficus-Indica and Touring Tucson, Arizona: Saguaro National Park and the Sonoran Desert.

In keeping with Andrew Wilder’s October Unprocessed challenge, we’ve provided instructions on how to make a fresh completely unprocessed version, and one that can be used for longer term storage. Either way, it’s really yummy!

Ingredients List – Varies based on intended uses

Juice

  • A minimum of 10 good-sized prickly pear cactus fruit (opuntia) to make a usable yield of fresh nectar. We purchased ours from a local farmer already “de-thorned”.  If you intend to pick your own and are eying the cactus fruit that happen to grown on state owned land, you may need to obtain a special permit to do so (National Parks are off limits).
  • The easiest way to preserve the juice is to split up the batch and freeze in smaller quantities, eliminating the need for all of these extra ingredients.  I personally think this method is the best — keeping in mind that we rarely use added sweeteners (sugar, evaporated cane juice, agave, etc.)  when we cook.

Syrup
In addition to the above, to make a fresh syrup (intended for same day consumption): sugar.  We use the same ratio as a simple syrup, and it varies depending upon the desired thickness:

  • for a thin syrup: 3 parts water, 1 part evaporated cane juice (sugar)
  • for a medium syrup:  2 parts water to 1 part evaporated cane juice (sugar)
  • for a thick syrup:  equal parts water to evaporated cane juice (sugar)

For those occasions when we don’t intend to use the juice within a couple of weeks, we’ve added a combination of evaporated cane juice (sugar), lemon or lime juice (or in a more concentrated form, citric acid).   Our personal goal is to make sure that the overall pH of our syrup is lower than 4.2* (so we don’t accidentally give ourselves food poisoning).

*Note that the combination of evaporated cane juice (sugar), lemon/lime juice or citric acid may well vary from batch to batch:  the combination of food preservation aids are relative to both taste and the pH of the fruit on hand.  We sterilize small canning jars and “can” them in small proportions (this blog post does not go into the mechanics of canning safety, how to can or preserve or make a jelly.)

Instructions – How to make prickly pear cactus juice

  • Peel the prickly pears, being mindful of the prickles.  Cut both ends off the pear:
  • Score an incision across the length of the pear.  This provides a starting point. Carefully roll the fruit along the length of the rind, peeling back the entire skin. Scoop out the middle, flesh (this is the part we’ll be using).

  • Cut the flesh into smaller pieces and place into a pot.  Fill the pot with water, allowing the water to cover the flesh (I usually leave an extra inch, or a little less, of water at the top).
  • Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and let simmer for 5 minutes, being mindful that there is enough water in the pan to allow it to boil.  Once the flesh has become soft, I use a potato masher to help loosen the flesh from the seeds during the cooking process:  I think this yields a better flavor.  If the water has evaporated and is no longer covering the fruit, add a little more water.
  • Continue to simmer for another 5-10 minutes.
  • Once we’ve felt that we’ve achieved the desired flavor, we place a bowl under a strainer and strain the seeds through a sieve (the seeds will be discarded), saving the juice or honey.
  • At this point, if we want to make a syrup, put the liquid back into the pan, and add the evaporated cane juice (sugar), citric acid/lemon or lime juice, and pectin and heat until the liquid has thickened.

  • If we’re are not planning to add anything extra, we quickly cool the liquid by using ice bath , or some kind of immersion cooling method.  Once the liquid has cooled down, place in clean storage containers, and refrigerate immediately.
  • Remember, we used the ice bath method in our “rice cream” social post to make lavender r-ice cream:

and voilà, our fresh juice to enjoy!   (Note:  we used more than 10 prickly pears).

About Johanna

Johanna weaves together a love for global foods and wanderlust in Low Sodium Blog. Inspired by her foodie family, who met a number of serious health challenges and adapted to low sodium diets on a turn of a dime, Low Sodium Blog chronicles their (farm) source to table expeditions, culinary travel, low sodium recipes, healthy eating adventures, and more. She and her family live in Los Angeles, California, a great travel hub and culinary playground.

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