Picking Tunas

full of tunas

Tunas are not hard to find after the rainy season.


 La Yacata provides for us in many ways you might not expect. Not only do the cactus that grow here give us nopal and pitayas (See Picking Pitayas) but after the rainy season, there are the tunas. Tunas come in red and green and are what might be called prickly pears. As with all things the desert provides, they take some effort to harvest but are well worth it.


Climbing on the top of the truck might get you close enough to harvest tunas–or it might not.

The first step in picking tunas is to find a cactus loaded with them. Once a likely target has been sighted, then the trick is to determine the best way to get at them. Tunas grow at the very tip top of the cactus and obviously you can’t just scurry up its branches like you would an apple tree. The cactus wouldn’t hold your weight and would give you espinas (thorns) in both your shoes and any other part of your body that might be exposed. You also don’t want to try and shake the cactus like you would a small nut tree or risk a rain of thorns.

stick with machete

Attaching a long stick to a machete may help you harvest.

Sometimes, parking below and clambering up on the top of the truck cabin will boost you enough to reach. Other times, if you are fortunate, the cactus will have grown next to some sort of tree you can climb. When all else fails, a long stick with a machete on top might do the trick.

twist with pinchers

Cutting a small section of the penca (leaf) will allow you to get at the tunas.

With the machete, extended or normal, cut a section of the penca (cactus leaf) that has a good number of tunas. Don’t worry about damaging the plant. Wherever a penca (cactus leaf) falls, another cactus grows.

brush off

Brush the thorns off the tunas before cutting them open.

With improvised wooden pinchers made from whatever branches may be lying about, twist off the tuna. When you have a pile of them, use a group of leafy branches to knock off most of the espinas (thorns). Once brushed clean, slice the tuna lengthwise with your machete. Using your thumb, pop out the fruit and discard the outside. This process is best done out in the open. The tiny espinas (thorns) that protect the fruit are sharp and painful and get everywhere.

pop out

Slice open and pop out the fruit.

When you have a bunch of this juicy, seedy sweet fruit, add límon y sal (lime and salt) and enjoy.

with limon

Enjoy tunas with a little lime and salt!

Doesn’t this Prickly Pear Margarita look delicious?





Filed under Native fauna and flora

15 responses to “Picking Tunas

  1. Janovia

    I have a tea with this in it and its extremely bitter. Is there anything I can do to make it taste more pleasant?


    • I’m not sure I understand. Which part of the cactus is in the tea? The pencas (leaves) are bitter when harvested old. The “shells” of the tunas are not eaten here so I don’t really know what it tastes like. Tunas might be bitter if harvested too early. How is the tea prepared?


    • I asked my husband about different types of nopales (cactus) and what might cause it to be bitter. He mentioned that there was a type of nopal (cactus) called nopal agrio, literally bitter cactus, that might be what your tea is made of. The tunas (fruit) are red just like the tunas that we have here, but are bitter rather than sweet. I would recommend adding honey to your tea to sweeten it a bit.


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  4. Wow, harvesting tunas sounds like quite an adventure! Although, I definitely agree they are certainly worth it! I feel almost guilty that I can just go over to the supermarket and buy some.

    Liked by 1 person

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