The Sicilian Prickly Pear


The history of opuntia ficus indica, the botanical name for the prickly pear, goes back to the fifteenth century, when it was imported into Sicily from Central South America.

Its ideal habitat was found on the slopes ofMount Etna, in the rocks and the volcanic soil until it became part of the classic Sicilian landscape.

For years, it was considered a common, mediocre product, probably due to the plant's wild vegetation, until 2003, when it obtained two PDO awards, the Mount Etna prickly pear and the San Cono prickly pear, which confirmed its quality and high nutritional value.

Sicily’s symbolic fruit, the prickly pear, is the full expression of what it means to live in this country: to adapt to different conditions, overcome thorny pitfalls and then savour unexpected sweetness.

It’s found everywhere, depicted with its bright colours in typical landscapes and colourful carts, on the fine handmade ceramics by Caltagirone, as well as on clothing, accessories, jewellery and even on pieces of furniture designed by the most famous fashion designers. It’s no coincidence it’s a perfect souvenir!

Prickly pears are not all equal and there are in fact three varieties, which are distinguished by their colour. The Sulfarina, the most widespread and least sought after, with its characteristic yellow-orange pulp and slightly floury consistency; the Muscaredda with its white pulp is a sweeter and crunchier variety; and, finally, the Sanguigna, distinguished by its red-violet pulp, is juicy and very sweet.

Besides the variety, a quality distinction must be made between the first bloom, which takes place between May and June, and the bastardoni, which are the prickly pears that grow from the second bloom, from the end of September to November, are bigger, firmer and have a few less seeds in the pulp.

The bastardoni are preferred by Sicilians and can easily be found throughout the island. However, the most valuable ones come mainly from Belpasso, San Cono, Militello Val di Catania and Piazza Armerina.

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