Starbucks has been rolling out new, limited edition drinks all throughout 2017, and the summer was no exception. For a short time, Starbucks franchises across the United States offered the vibrant, summer-themed Berry Prickly Pear Frappuccino. What is prickly pear? At the time, I had no idea.

I'd never heard of prickly pears before the release of the drink, and imagined the fruit to be like a standard pear: a crunchy interior, green or brown skin, and, well, pear-shaped. 

The name "prickly pear" is quite deceiving, because the fruit actually comes from a cactus plant called the "Opuntia" that's native in the Americas. It's found widely in Mexico, the Caribbean islands, and in arid climates of the Western United States such as the Rocky Mountains. 

Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit

desertdutchman on Flickr

The cactus bears edible fruits that star in the colorful Starbucks drink. With a bright red exterior, the fruit inside tastes like a mix between watermelon and classic bubble gum. It's commonly used in juices, cocktails, syrups, jams, and candies for its refreshingly sweet taste.

Besides the tangy addition to various recipes, the prickly pear fruit also boasts tons of health benefits. Each fruit is high in dietary fiber and contains important antioxidants and minerals. It has anti-inflammatory characteristics, and prickly pear extracts or supplements have been known to be effective in certain medicines. For example, it's extract is used to treat type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. 

And while prickly pear is used in mixers and syrups for margaritas, for hundreds of years it has also been used as an effective treatment for hangovers. It even has beauty benefits: prickly pear sap is added to some conditioners to make hair soft and shiny. 

The preparation process for the prickly pear is definitely more difficult than for your standard pear, but worth the juicy fruit that lies beneath the thorns. It's to be expected—after all, the fruit comes from a cactus plant.

To prepare, you need thick leather gloves and some pliers or a sharp knife to remove all of the spikes from the prickly pear's exterior. Here are some tips if you're thinking of cutting and prepping your own prickly pear.

Once you do cut open the spiky fruit, you can make some fresh prickly pear drinks like juice, lemonade, and cocktails. Alternatively, if you want prickly pear mixer without the hassle of removing the fruit's shell, you can buy prickly pear mixer or syrup online.

Besides drinks, you can use the fruit in tons of different recipes such as jelly, marmalade, cupcakes, or bake them to bring out their tangy flavor. Or simply enjoy the fruit on its own.

To begin your prickly pear culinary experience, look to local Mexican supermarkets or chain supermarkets such as Wegman's that stock the unique fruits on occasion. Now that you know the answer to "what is prickly pear," you can fully enjoy this fruit.