Prickly pear cacti have been a staple of the Mexican and Central American diet for thousands of years. They grow wild throughout the American southwest. The prickly pear plant has three edible parts: the pad of the cactus (nopal), which is like a vegetable, the petals of the flowers, which can be added to salads, and the pear (tuna), which is a fruit.

Here is a photo of the pears, which are actually part of the berry family, and are generally harvested in late summer around August:


As you can see, they are deep magenta in color, and they are used in pies and jellies and jams, just to name a few.

As today is my last day in Arizona for a while, I set out to buy some prickly pears, or their juice, or syrup made from them, for a special libation. I tried three different grocery stores, including natural food markets, to no avail. At Basha’s I finally found Cherie’s Desert Harvest All Natural Prickly Pear Cactus Syrup, which I decided to substitute for an orange liqueur, such as Cointreau or Grand Marnier, in a margarita. (Trust me – life is too short to use triple sec in a margarita!)

Here are the usual ingredients I put in a margarita, together with the prickly pear syrup and a really cool Day of the Dead lantern I bought in Santa Fe. And yes, since you asked, I do intend to display it all the time!


The syrup’s ingredients are pure cane sugar, organic prickly pear cactus, lemon, and citrus pectin. While orange liqueurs are certainly viscous, they are not as thick as this syrup! Due to the thickness of the syrup, I altered my standard margarita recipe and did not merely substitute prickly pear for Cointreau.


The syrup is is also exceptionally sweet, and this is coming from someone with quite a sweet tooth.


I tasted the syrup by itself first, and it is almost cloying with just a hint of green in the background. Because of that sweetness, it was necessary to alter my standard margarita recipe even more.

So without further ado, here is the recipe for a single serving prickly pear margarita:

In a rocks glass filled with ice, add:

4.5 oz. (3 shots) tequila (I like Hornitos Reposado)
1.5 oz. (1 shot) prickly pear syrup
1.5 oz. (1 shot) sweet and sour (omit this entirely, to your taste, as the syrup is so sweet, but you may want to add more lime juice)
The juice of one whole lime

Transfer the contents of the glass into a shaker and shake vigorously to mix the thick syrup with the other ingredients. Transfer the entire contents of the shaker back to the glass.

Garnish with a lime if you wish, but to me the magenta color of the prickly pear syrup makes the marg looks pretty enough by itself in a clear glass.