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Cactus (Prickly) Pear

Recommendations for Maintaining Postharvest Quality

Cactus (Prickly) Pear, Tuna, Figue de Barbarie

Adel A. Kader

Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis

Maturity & Quality
Maturity Indices

Fruit size and fullness, external color changes from green to yellow or red, abscission of the glochids (tufts of very small spines), fruit firmness, and flattening of the floral cavity.

Cactus pears should be picked when fully-ripe to assure good flavor quality.

Quality Indices
  • Uniformity and intensity of the characteristic color of each cultivar (pale-green, yellow, orange, red, or purple)
  • Size
  • Freedom from defects and decay.
  • There are large differences among cultivars in total soluble solids (12-17%), titratable acidity (0.03-0.12%), pH (6.0-6.6), and ascorbic acid contents (20-40 mg/100g fresh weight)

Maturity & Quality Photos

Title: Cultivar Maturity

Photo Credit: Don Edwards, UC Davis

Title: Maturity: Variation

Photo Credit: Cantwell, Marita CE Vegetable Specialist Department of Plant Sciences

Title: Quality (1)

Photo Credit: Cantwell, Marita CE Vegetable Specialist Department of Plant Sciences

Title: Ripeness Stages

Photo Credit: Cantwell, Marita CE Vegetable Specialist Department of Plant Sciences

Temperature & Controlled Atmosphere
Optimum Temperature

6-8°C (43-46°F); storage potential is 2-5 weeks; depending on cultivar, ripeness stage, and harvest season.

Optimum Relative Humidity

90 to 95%  packaging in perforated plastic bags or box liner is effective in reducing water loss under lower relative humidities.

Rates of Respiration

Cactus pear is a non-climacteric fruit with relatively low respiration rate [15-20 ml CO2/kg·hr at 20°C (68°F)].

To calculate heat production multiply ml CO2/kg·hr by 440 to get Btu/ton/day or by 122 to get cal/metric ton/day.

Rates of Ethylene Production

Less than 0.3 µl/kg·hr at 20°C (68°F)

Responses to Ethylene

No published information but since cactus pears are picked fully-ripe it is likely that they are not affected by postharvest exposure to ethylene.

Responses to Controlled Atmospheres (CA)

Limited research (in Italy) indicates that storage of cactus pears at 5°C (41°F) in 2% O2 + 2-5% CO2 delays ripening and extends storage-life (based on appearance quality) to 4-8 weeks (compared to 2-4 weeks in air storage).

Physiological and Physical Disorders

Chilling Injury. Exposure to temperatures below 5°C (41°F) for longer than a few days causes chilling injury, as indicated by pitting and dark-brown spots on the peel surface and increased susceptibility to decay. Conditioning at 38°C (101°F) for 24 hours reduces incidence and severity of chilling injury during subsequent handling at temperatures below 5°C (41°F).

Pathological Disorders

Physical damage to the peel and stem-end during harvesting and handling and/or chilling injury predispose cactus pears to attack by decay-causing pathogens, including Penicillium spp., Alternaria spp., and Dothiorella ribis. Curing [1-2 days at 20°C (68°F)] to encourage wound healing and/or prestorage dipping in water at 55°C (129°F) for 5 minutes can reduce decay incidence and severity during subsequent storage.

Disorders Photos

Title: Dry Rot

Photo Credit: Cantwell, Marita CE Vegetable Specialist Department of Plant Sciences

Title: Stem-End Decay

Photo Credit: Cantwell, Marita CE Vegetable Specialist Department of Plant Sciences


November 1999

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The information in this fact sheet represents our best understanding of the current state of knowledge at the time of the latest update, and does not represent an exhaustive review of all research results. Links to any of these UC Postharvest Technology Center pages are permitted, but no endorsement of the linking site or products mentioned in the linking page is intended or implied by such a link.

How to Cite

Author(s) names. Initial publication or update date (located at the top). Title. Link to the specific Produce Fact Sheet webpage (Accessed date)

Example: Cantwell, M. and T. Suslow. 2002. Lettuce, Crisphead: Recommendations for Maintaining Postharvest Quality. (Accessed January 18, 2014).

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