The Fishhook Barrel Cactus, or also known as the Candy Barrel or Compass Barrel, is a very common and widespread species of barrel cactus native to North America. It is found in Arizona, California and Sonora in Mexico. It was given its name because of its fruit which looks similar to a fishhook. This fruit is edible but it must be peeled before being eaten.
Other names: Fishhook Barrel Cactus, Candy Barrel Cactus, Compass Barrel Cactus, Biznaga de agua, Siml (Seri), chiávul (O’Odham)
Edible parts: Fruit, seeds, flower buds, inner flesh.
Season of Harvest: Buds are harvested in the early to mid-summer. Fruits are harvested from late November to March. The flesh is harvested at any time. The roots are harvested once cacti have fallen after storms.
Three species of barrel cactus: Saguaro barrel cactus — Ferocactus cylindraceus. Siml caacöl (big barrel cactus), siml cöquicöt (killer barrel cactus) — Ferocactus emoryi.
Barrel Cactus Fruit
Barrel cactus fruit, also known as muppets you can eat.
Family Name: Cactaceae
Medicinal Purpose: Needles
Part Used: Spines
Preparation: Dried or fresh
Compass Barrel Cactus
Range/Origin: Southwest USA, northern Mexico
Hardiness: Sunset zones: 8-24; USDA: 9-10, 20° F
Comments: Low litter, Long thorns
- Exposure: Full sun
- Water: Low
- Soil: Moderately rich, well-drained soil
- Propagation: Seeds
Fishhook Barrel Cactus
Size: 5ft tall by 24 in diameter
Leaves: Reddish spines, the stout flat thorn is curved inward creating a hook shape
Flowers: Yellow-orange flowers around the top of plant
Fruit: Yellow, pineapple-shaped fleshy fruit; favorite food of wildlife
Stems/Trunks: Single column
Range/Origin: Arizona, Texas, and northern Mexico
Hardiness: Sunset Zones; 8-24
Comments: Low litter, Long hooked thorns
- Exposure: Full to partial sun
- Water: Low
- Soil: Tolerant; good drainage
- Propagation: Seed
No Spine On Barrel Cactus Fruit
The barrel cactus, which grows in the Sonoran Desert and other parts of the world, has long, curved spines on the body. Those are sharp enough to keep away most animals, but they’re so far apart that they don’t hinder humans who want to pluck ripe fruit from the plant’s body. Keep in mind that all cacti produce some amount of irritating glochids (microscopic bristles), so you may want to wear gloves anyway. Also, if you have sensitive skin, you’ll probably want to use tongs or a brush to handle the barrel cactus fruit.
However, the barrel cactus fruits are complete, 100%, spine-free—which means no gloves, no tongs, no burning to remove nasty glochids, nothing but pure, sweet, endorphin-rich free food picking to sate your inner caveman/cavewoman.
Dehydrating Tames the Cactus Slime
The fruit itself won’t yield as much as it looks like, since the little pineapples are filled with black seeds. Once they’ve dried they’ll last a very long time in a jar. Some seeds will stick to the cut fruit but are easily shaken/winnowed after drying and combined with the rest of the seeds.
No special equipment is needed for the drying process—just a place with good airflow and a source of direct sunlight. If you live in a humid climate, you might also want to provide a way to help remove moisture from the air during the drying process, such as by leaving the container uncovered on a raised surface.
To cook from dried, just simmer them away in your soup. They take a while to soften, but eventually, they turn into little tart bites that gently flavor a cooking liquid, a bit like avgolemono soup.
Cactus pearls are the seeds of the cactus fruit. They make up roughly 40% or so of the volume of the cactus fruit. Fresh they’re fine as a sprinkle or garnish. Dried and eaten raw, they’re gritty and bland tasting.
The ones I found were small and flat, almost like a nut, and they gave off a rich, nutty aroma, almost like a roasted root or coffee substitute. Toasting them gave off an even deeper aroma, almost sour at first—almost like the smell of fermenting grapes—but with a hint of sweetness as you chew. I’d compare them to a half grain, half aromatic for cooking purposes. They flavored a flatbread made with cornmeal just fine; however, make sure to grind the meal as fine as possible.
Barrel Cactus Chutney (For 1 qt of chopped fruit)
Acorn/Barrel Cactus Seed Bread
- Drizzle olive oil over the bread before placing it in the oven. It will create a crusty, golden-brown exterior that is perfect for soaking up the flavors of the ingredients inside.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Warm the coconut oil to a liquid temperature, but not so hot that it’s smoking.
- Blend all dry ingredients.
- For the filling, combine all remaining ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly.
- Place the pan in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Toasted Barrel Cactus Seed Flour
Lemon Barrel Cactus Cake
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and turmeric in a large bowl.
Use a cheese grater or zester to grate 2 tablespoons of lemon zest into a medium bowl and set aside.
Cut the lemons in half, squeeze the juice from 2 halves into a small bowl and set aside.
Add 1 cup sugar to the lemon zest in the medium bowl; rub together with your fingertips until the sugar is fragrant and tinted yellow. Whisk in the Greek yogurt, beaten eggs, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice until well blended.
Using a spatula, add the wet mixture to the flour mixture, stirring just to blend. Fold in the melted butter. Stir in the barrel cactus seeds. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Arrange barrel cactus slices on top if using and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar.
Bake until the top of the cake is golden brown, the edges pull away from the sides of the pan, and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. (If the loaf is getting too dark, lay a piece of foil on top to prevent burning.) Let cool before slicing.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Barrel Cactus Good For?
Barrel cactus fruit has a unique flavor and is rich in vitamin A and vitamin C. The pulp of the barrel cactus can be applied externally to relieve pain. For this reason, it’s sometimes called “cactus liquor.”
Barrel cactus pulp can also be used as a natural treatment for acne. To make the acne cream, mix with water and apply the mixture to the affected area. Let it dry on its own and then rinse it off with warm water. The high amount of vitamin A prevents some types of cancer, and also helps prevent acne.
Can I Eat Barrel Cactus Fruit?
The barrel cactus is famous for being the only cactus that produces edible fruit. But even though it’s rare, many people don’t know how to eat the barrel fruit. They might not like the taste, or they feel intimidated by the idea of eating something that came out of a cactus.
The fruit tastes light and lemony, and the shiny black seeds are easily dislodged. They’re not as prime as prickly pear or saguaro fruits.
How Do You Toast Barrel Cactus Seeds?
After spending hours researching barrel cactus seeds, I decided to try my own method of roasting them. Instead of an agave leaf, I used a dry frying pan at medium-low heat with no oil or butter!
I let the pan heat up for about five minutes before putting any seeds in. When my pan was nice and hot, I added three tablespoons of seeds and spread them out on the bottom of the pan.
Can You Eat the Inside of a Barrel Cactus?
The flesh of the barrel cactus can be eaten raw or cooked.