Sipping into a mystery fruit

By Kat Kinsman
Updated February 13, 2018
EC: What a Prickly Pear Is and Why It's in Your Frappuccino
Credit: Photo by Alex Koldertsov / EyeEm via Getty Images

Prickly pear Frappuccinos showed up on the Starbucks menu today. If Starbucks rolled out a brand new slugfruit or bear gonad Frappuccino tomorrow, Instagrammers, food journalists, and Starbucks fanatics across the nation would be in line immediately to chug 'em down no questions asked so this is perhaps barely worth mentioning but still we've gotta ask: How many of them know what a prickly pear is or where it comes from? It's OK if they don't. This is a large, lush world filled with produce of all kinds and many folks plain old haven't had access to fruit beyond the basics: apples, bananas, berries, and the rest of the produce alphabet. There is no time or place for fruit shaming, only more fruit knowing. This is the designated hour at which you learn what a prickly pear is.

To the desert we go! Specifically to the deserts of the western United States and Mexico where prickly pear cactus grows. They've got those flat, paddle-like leaves that are sometimes harvested and sold as nopales, but that's not the only edible part of this succulent. The cacti also produce a brightly-colored, spine-bearing fruit called prickly pear. Likely because they look like neon pears with little barbs called glochids sticking out of them, but that may just be the heatstroke talking.

These prickly pears are divested of their painful spikes before they're brought to market, and sold as cactus fruit, cactus pears, or "tuna." Even then, it's an awfully good idea to use gloves when you're handling prickly pears because those little jerks like to play hard to get. Plus they're packed with a gazillion tiny seeds.

With all this hassle, is the flavor of prickly pear really worth all the schlepping, pain, and fuss? That depends on the variety and your personal taste, of course. Some prickly pears have a subtle, melon-like flavor. Others are sweet and bitter. They may be tart, banana-esque, sour, or floral. The prickly pears used in Starbucks' Frappuccinos are made into a strawberry prickly pear sauce (water, white grape juice concentrate, prickly pear puree, lime juice concentrate, strawberry puree concentrate, and fruit and vegetable juice for color—specifically sweet potato, apple, radish, and cherry) so maybe don't go in expecting to experience a whole lotta subtlety and nuance. Just groove on the fact that you now know what a prickly pear is (in addition to being a novel selling point) and wait for the next Frappuccino to be unleashed on the public. Probably tomorrow.