Prickly pear fruit water (known in Mexico as agua de tuna, agua=water, tuna=prickly pear fruit) is sweet, refreshing, and a treat in the early fall when the fruit is at its peak. It is also a bit of an anomaly on this blog since I don’t write many beverage recipes.
That is because frankly, most beverages aren’t that exciting to me. And the simplicity of aguas frescas really doesn’t seem to warrant a recipe. After all, these drinks served throughout Mexico as part of the midday meal are simply fruit that is either blended or juiced with water and sugar added. Essentially, these are what in the US would be known as “ades” (as in lemonade, limeade, etc.).
But, there is something special about prickly pear fruit water. This beverage is certainly uncommon outside of Mexico (or at least I have never heard of it in the US). And I think one of the things that makes it so special is that this fruit comes from the unassuming, even sinister-looking, prickly pear cactus.
What are aguas frescas?
Since aguas frescas (literally translates to “cool water”) are so common here in Mexico, it seems only fair to take some time to talk about these midday meal beverage standards.
Agua fresca refers to a variety of non-alcoholic beverages made in Mexico generally using fruit pulp, water, and sugar to provide extra sweetness. Using ice to chill the water is relatively recent. Traditionally, these drinks were stored in clay pots to keep the temperature of the drink just below ambient. Now, it is common to chill these in the fridge before serving. Agua fresca is traditionally served in homes and restaurants during the midday meal or comida.
These drinks can be made out of literally dozens of fruit, depending on what is in season. Some common varieties are guava, mango, lime, papaya, pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, orange, and mandarin. Of course, the flavors available will depend on the region of Mexico and what fruit is in season.
One of my favorite varieties during the hot months is made with cucumber and a bit of lime. My kids love agua de jamaica (a variety made by boiling hibiscus flowers) and horchata (a variety made with rice, milk, cinnamon, and sugar). But towards the end of the rainy season, prickly pear fruit becomes abundant in the markets here in central Mexico. And that means it is time for prickly pear fruit water!
Prickly pear fruit in Mexico
Prickly pear fruit comes from the prickly pear cactus. You wouldn’t think of eating this cactus if you didn’t know better, but here in Mexico, we eat the tender cactus pads as well as the fruit, when the fruit is in season.
The edible fruit grows on the top of the cactus pads and is covered in small thorns. The outer skin of the fruit is removed, revealing a pulpy, seedy fruit center. This is the part used for making prickly pear fruit water. The seedy center can also be eaten raw or unprocessed, seeds and all.
There are a variety of prickly pear fruit types in Mexico. A common type here in central Mexico is a green variety, known as the tuna reina (queen prickly pear fruit). It is the most common variety cultivated and has fewer seeds than other varieties. Red varieties are also available here, but are a bit more difficult to source.
Besides using the prickly pear fruit for agua fresca, the fruit is also used to make other types of beverages including pulque (a fermented beverage produced from the agave). The seeds are sometimes sun-dried, toasted, or used raw, and then ground with chiles to make salsa.
How to handle and select prickly pear fruit
Here in central Mexico, prickly pear fruits are sold with the thorns already removed. You will want to take care when handling these, however, in case any thorns were missed! I look for fruit with firm, unwrinkled skin. Any fruit that is too soft or wrinkled is past its prime.
As noted above, the green variety is more common in central Mexico, but I have been able to find a red variety on occasion. Both have excellent taste and really, the color is a matter of preference or what is available in your area.
How to make this refreshing prickly pear fruit water
It is so easy to make prickly pear fruit water, it literally takes less than 5 minutes and a couple of hours to chill in the fridge!
The fruit will come with a thick skin that surrounds the edible center. You will need to remove this skin first. Slice the ends of the fruit off and then make a slice lengthwise down the side of the fruit. Using your fingers, peel the skin off and discard. The seedy middle of the fruit is what we will use to make this drink.
That’s the hardest part of this process. The rest is literally, throwing the fruit with some water in a blender, blending until smooth, and then straining the mixture to remove all of those seeds!
Add water, sugar, and mix everything together until the sugar is dissolved. Then, chill the drink until you are ready to serve! We have been able to keep prickly pear fruit water in the fridge for up to 2 days. After about 2 days, the mixture becomes thicker and more viscous. I suggest drinking this as fresh as possible for the best taste and texture.
Refreshing Prickly Pear Fruit Water
- 4 prickly pear fruits, outer skin removed (about 1 pound 3 ounces before the skins are removed)
- 7 cups water divided
- 1/2 cup sugar
- In a blender, place prickly pear fruits and 1 cup of water. Blend on high until the mixture is smooth and no chunks of fruit remain.
- Strain the mixture into a pitcher through a fine sieve to remove the seeds
- Add remaining water and sugar
- Stir to dissolve sugar and refrigerate until chilled, or serve over ice
- This drink will keep about 2 days in the fridge.