Prickly pear cacti produce edible fruit and pads, but both parts must be removed from the body of the cactus, scraped free of spines, and peeled before being consumed. The fruit and pads can both can be eaten raw, although the pads (also called nopales) are often fried, grilled or pickled. The fruit also contains seeds that are edible and used to make cactus flour.
A knife or vegetable scraper works well for removing the spines and skin from prickly pear pads. The spines are often small and might not appear to be dangerous. However, they can cause skin irritation for several days after contact, so it's important to handle the pads carefully and remove the spines thoroughly before eating.
Prickly pear pads become tougher as they age. Although they remain edible even when fully grown, young pads are more tender, making them a better choice to eat raw. Young pads can be identified by their glossy green color and smaller size.
Prickly pear fruit is usually yellow, purple or red in color. The fruit tastes similar to melon and has a high water content. It can be juiced or used in a variety of recipes, including jams, pies and ice cream.