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That's right—you can eat every part of this plant (Opuntia spp.), except the roots and the spines! In addition to the delicious nopales, a wonderful vegetable in the leaves, and delicious prickly pear fruits (also called Indian fig or Barbary fig, and known in Spanish as tuna, which are actually a very large berry), the prickly pear cactus is beneficial as food in another way—you can grind up the seeds of this cactus to make a gluten-free flour with excellent nutritional properties. While it is unlikely that the average homeowner will produce enough seeds to consider home-grown prickly pear flour as a major resource, by conserving and drying those seeds of the cactus fruits, eventually you will have enough to make a cup or so of delicious flour, and because of the qualities inherent in prickly pear seeds, flour made from these cactus seeds works very well for both baking and cooking.
How to Make and Use Prickly Pear Flour
Reserve the seeds of the prickly pear fruit and allow them to dry thoroughly. Crack with a rolling pin, then put in a grinder (this is one of the very few seeds you can use a coffee mill to grind). Once you have seeds ground up, grind them fine, then for normal baking, because it has no gluten, in your recipes you can mix up to half prickly pear flour with regular flour for the total amount of flour you need. Use the prickly pear flour by itself for cooking where gluten development is not necessary, such as for battering food to fry, or for thickening soups, stews, sauces and gravies. You can also use it to make pasta, flatbread, and pancakes, or substitute for regular wheat flour in any recipes which do not need gluten.
Unless you live next to a field full of cactuses, you will probably not harvest enough to make a large quantity of flour. At the same time, there is no reason not to use the seeds, and harvesting a few cups of flour a year is not an unreasonable amount to expect if you are eating the prickly pear fruits.
Nutritional Data for Prickly Pear Seeds
Mannan, g / Kg
β- glucan, g / Kg
Sucrose, g / Kg
Why Turn This Into Flour?
Prickly pear flour is very high in protein and has good foaming and emulsifying points. What does that mean? Simply that this flour is not only good for you, and provides good nutrition, but that its characteristics make it ideal not only for baking, but for cooking and other uses. It has a high oil binding point (it glues stuff together well), making it ideal for meats, sausage, breads and cakes, while the proteins in prickly pear flour, with their high emulsifying and foaming capacity, are good for salad dressing, sausage, soups, confectionery, frozen desserts and cakes. Prickly pear flour is also an excellent source of fibre and many essential and nonessential amino acids.
Prickly Pear Cactus Is a Source of Protein
By trying to use more of the prickly pear cactus plant, instead of merely throwing away the seeds, you will gain access to an unconventional source of protein, which is a problem for vegetarians and vegans, reduce your carbon footprint, and become more in tune with nature. We should not waste food, and prickly pear flour is a good, nutritious food.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: How do you separate the seeds from the prickly pear pulp efficiently?
Answer: The way I do it is to sieve the seeds from the fruit. I don't think it's that efficient, but it's a way to use the seeds instead of just spitting them out. You can also eat the fruit and spit out the seeds, of course.
Question: Is this a low-carb flour?
Answer: This depends on your definition of low-carb, but it contains significant amounts of protein and fiber. There is a nutritional chart in the article that shows the amounts.
© 2010 classicalgeek
Richard Lindsay from California on March 29, 2016:
Great post, I have never heard of using the seeds this way. I grow a lot of nopales myself so thanks for the information.
Cathi Sutton on November 22, 2013:
Sounds like a very useful natural flour! Prickly Pears grow wild, and in abundance in my neck of the woods, so I could maybe harvest from the roadside, etc, to make flour.
Thnaks for a great Hub!
RTalloni on March 01, 2011:
Ricardo Torres on December 06, 2010:
me encantan las tunas y ahora las amo!!!
thevoice from carthage ill on June 07, 2010:
great culinary write read thanks