Prickly Pear sorbetEncouraged by author Hank Shaw, I foraged for prickly pear fruits, then made this intensely flavored sorbet and gorgeous magenta syrup.

More about Hank Shaw, author of Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast in Wednesday’s post, where I will give away a signed copy of his book.

I was intrigued with Hank’s instructions on how to make syrup or sorbet from the fruits of the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia), which grow here and in many parts of the Americas. My friends had some growing in their yard (and I’m watching some on a nearby street for ripeness) so I decided to give it a shot. Hank describes these as “little flavor grenades” that taste like “a combination of bubble gum, watermelon, and strawberries.” Love it. (The fruits are known as tuna in Spanish, and the cactus paddles are called nopales.)

The trickiest part is getting around the tiny, hairlike spines called glochids. I learned the hard way that they adhere beautifully to the edge of a paper bag, so wear gloves at all times when dealing with them. (He says that melted wax will remove the tiny spines.) I burned off the glochids over my stove (you could also do this on a grill) which has the added advantage of softening the skin, making them even easier to peel. Watch the video.

Suitable for:
vegan, gluten-free, low-sodium, reduced-sugar diets

Not for:
migraine diets

Prickly Pear Syrup
1/2 C. (125 ml) of filtered juice (see below)
1/2 C. (125 ml) of agave syrup or organic cane sugar

I used the magenta fruits for the syrup. Stir together in a saucepan, bring to a simmer, and cook down until reduced. You will get a thinner syrup using agave, but it will still be a gorgeous magenta color and taste wonderful. Store in the refrigerator and use within six months. It is supposed to make a great margarita, blending beautifully with its close cousin, tequila.

Prickly Pear sorbet

Prickly Pear sorbet and syrup

Gorgeously colored, naturally sweet.
0 from 0 votes
Prep Time 30 mins
Total Time 4 hrs 30 mins
Course Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine American, Mexican
Servings 6 servings


  • 9 prickly pear fruits large
  • 1/2 cup agave syrup
  • 1 lemons juiced


  • Burn off the spines and tiny needles (called glochids) using tongs and a grill or gas burner. Set aside to cool.
  • Cover anything likely to stain. Wearing gloves, peel the fruits, discarding the tough ends and the peel and spines. You can compost this.
  • Run the fruits through a food processor or juicer, then a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds. You should have 2 1/2 C. (600 ml) of thick juice.
  • Add the agave syrup and the lemon juice, tasting as you go. You might not need as much agave if your fruits are really ripe. Hank recommended using citric acid (Fruit Fresh) but I think I like the taste of the lemon juice better. The tartness is needed to balance the sweetness of the fruit, which is an excellent source of Vitamin C.
  • Put the mixture in a large shallow baking dish, then into the freezer. Remove every 30-45 minutes and rake it with a fork to form icy, slushy crystals.


Per serving (without syrup):
  • 157 calories
  • 0 g fat
  • 0 g saturated fat
  • 0 g monounsaturated fat
  • 0 g polyunsaturated fat
  • 0 g trans fat
  • 0 g cholesterol
  • 0 mg sodium
  • 435 mg potassium
  • 34 g carbohydrate
  • 7 g fiber
  • 33 g sugars
  • 1 g protein
  • 3 Weight Watchers Points Plus