The Prickly Pear is a Cactus that is native to the Americas and in particular Central America. Prickly pears were introduced into other countries including South Africa over 300 years ago although a spineless version was introduced as a crop in 1974. The Prickly Pear is a member of the Cactus opuntia family and became fairly invasive in South Africa due to the fact that no natural pest existed. The cochineal insect was introduced in order to contain the spread of the prickly pears to prevent damage to the natural environment. Interestingly cochineal insects are used to produce a natural red dye.
Prickly pears are a delicious fruit and must be eaten very cold. When peeling the skin off the fruit you have to be very careful as the fruit contains spines and glochids (the fine prickles, or bristles) that readily dislodge and may cause skin and eye irritation. You can find many videos online showing you how to cut a prickly pear.
If you have never eaten a prickly pear then I suggest that you do but don’t have too many as the edible pips can cause a blockage in your pipes. This is in fact an argument my wife and I have as she believes that if you follow the prickly pears with a cup of tea it actually has the opposite effect.
Prickly pears may not be indigenous to South Africa but I have eaten them all my life and have a passion for prickly pear eating especially when they have been peeled by someone else!!!