Prickly pear cactus syrup is a tasty sweetener made from the juice of prickly pear cactus fruit. It has a beautiful magenta color and a sweet, mild flavor reminiscent of watermelon. Prickly pear syrup is popular in Mexico and the American Southwest, where it’s used to sweeten drinks and dress up desserts. But if you’ve bought or made your own prickly pear syrup, you may be wondering – how long does opened prickly pear syrup last? Here’s a look at prickly pear syrup’s shelf life, proper storage methods, and signs of spoilage.
Unopened Prickly Pear Syrup
An unopened bottle of prickly pear cactus syrup will generally stay good for 12-18 months past the printed expiration date. The exact shelf life depends on factors like the best by date, how it was processed and packaged, and how it’s been stored. Higher quality prickly pear syrups made with less preservatives tend to have shorter shelf lives of around 1 year. More commercially made products with more preservatives can last 18-24 months. For the longest shelf life, store unopened prickly pear syrup in a cool, dark place like the pantry or cupboard.
Opened Prickly Pear Syrup
Once opened, prickly pear cactus syrup will last for 4-6 months when stored properly in the refrigerator. Keep opened prickly pear syrup in a tightly sealed glass bottle or jar, away from light exposure. Over time, opened prickly pear syrup may start to crystallize around the neck of the bottle – this is normal for the sugars coming out of suspension. You can revive crystallized syrup by removing the cap and microwaving it for 20-30 seconds until the crystals dissolve and mixing well before use.
Signs of Spoilage
There are a few key signs that opened prickly pear syrup has gone bad and should be discarded:
- Mold growth
- Fermentation – bubbles, foaming, alcoholic smell
- Changes in texture – extreme thickening or thinning, crystallization throughout syrup
- Changes in color – extreme darkening, loss of pink/magenta hue
- Off odors – vinegar-like sour smell, rotten smell
As long as it has been stored properly in the refrigerator and shows no signs of spoilage, prickly pear syrup can be enjoyed for up to 6 months past opening. Always use clean utensils to remove syrup from the bottle, never return unused syrup back into the bottle, and inspect opened bottles periodically for any signs of mold or fermentation. Trust your senses – if prickly pear cactus syrup smells or tastes off, it’s best to discard it.
How to Store Prickly Pear Syrup
Here are some tips for getting the longest shelf life out of your prickly pear syrup:
- Purchase prickly pear syrup with the furthest away best by date.
- Store unopened bottles in a cool, dark pantry or cupboard away from heat and light.
- Refrigerate opened bottles in a tightly sealed glass container.
- Keep air space to a minimum in opened bottles.
- Use clean utensils each time to remove syrup.
- If crystals form around the neck, revive syrup by microwaving 10-20 seconds.
- Use opened syrup within 4-6 months.
How to Tell If Prickly Pear Syrup Has Gone Bad
Prickly pear syrup will exhibit signs when it has gone bad and is no longer safe to eat. Here’s what to look for:
- Appearance: Mold, extreme darkening in color, separation, excessive crystallization
- Texture: Extreme thickening or thinning, large sugar crystals throughout
- Smell: Vinegar-like, fermented, rotten, sour
- Taste: Very sour, moldy, salty, bitter, off flavors
- Other: Fizzing, foaming, bubbling indicating fermentation
Prickly pear syrup that displays any of these signs should be discarded. When stored properly in the refrigerator, prickly pear syrup can last 4-6 months after opening. Discard any bottles past that timeframe or exhibiting signs of spoilage.
Does Prickly Pear Syrup Go Bad?
Yes, prickly pear syrup can go bad eventually if not stored properly. Like most syrups, prickly pear cactus syrup has a high sugar content which helps preserve it. Unopened prickly pear syrup lasts 12-18 months past its printed expiration date when stored in a cool, dark pantry. Once opened, prickly pear syrup will last 4-6 months in the refrigerator before going bad. Properly stored, prickly pear syrup can maintain good quality and avoid spoilage during that timeframe. But be on the lookout for changes in appearance, texture, and smell that indicate it has gone bad and should be discarded.
How to Extend the Shelf Life of Prickly Pear Syrup
You can extend the shelf life of prickly pear syrup by following these storage tips:
- Purchase prickly pear syrup with the furthest away sell by date.
- Store unopened bottles in a cool, dark place like a pantry or cupboard.
- After opening, immediately place prickly pear syrup in the refrigerator.
- Use a clean, dry spoon each time you remove syrup from the bottle.
- Keep the bottle tightly sealed between uses.
- Limit air exposure by keeping just enough syrup in the opened bottle.
- If crystals form around the neck, revive syrup by microwaving 10-20 seconds.
Following these steps can help extend the shelf life of prickly pear syrup by up to 6 months after opening. Discard bottles if you see any mold, fermentation, separation, or other signs of spoilage.
Substitutes for Prickly Pear Syrup
If you don’t have prickly pear syrup on hand or it’s gone bad, there are a few suitable ingredient substitutes including:
- Simple syrup – Mix 1 cup sugar with 1 cup water, simmer until dissolved. Let cool completely before using as 1:1 substitute.
- Agave nectar – Very similar flavor profile, swap 1:1 for prickly pear syrup.
- Grenadine – Sweeter but provides nice color, use about 3/4 cup for every 1 cup prickly pear syrup.
- Pomegranate molasses – Distinctive flavor but works in some applications, start with 1/2 cup per 1 cup syrup.
- Watermelon syrup – Not exact but has similar melon-like fruitiness, substitute 1:1.
In drinks, desserts, and other recipes, you can replace prickly pear syrup with equal amounts of simple syrup, agave, or grenadine. Adjust sweetness and flavors as needed. The results won’t be exactly the same but these substitutes can work in a pinch.
How to Make Prickly Pear Syrup at Home
You can make your own prickly pear cactus syrup at home with just a few ingredients:
- Prickly pear cactus fruits (tunas)
- Lemon juice (optional)
The basic steps are:
- Clean and peel the prickly pear fruits (tunas).
- Blend or mash the fruit into a juice. Strain out any solids.
- For every 2 cups of prickly pear juice, add 1 1/2 cups of sugar.
- Optional – Add 2 tbsp lemon juice per 2 cups of prickly pear juice for flavor.
- Simmer the juice, sugar, and lemon juice over medium heat until thickened to desired consistency, about 15 minutes.
- Let cool completely then bottle prickly pear syrup.
- Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
Experiment with the sugar amounts to reach your preferred sweetness level. Add cinnamon, vanilla, or other spices to create your own signature prickly pear syrup flavor.
Tips for Making Prickly Pear Syrup
- Look for ripe, deep red-purple colored fruits.
- Use gloves when prepping to avoid prickles.
- A pinch of citric acid helps stabilize the color.
- Simmer on low heat to avoid burning.
- Bottling while hot helps prevent mold growth.
- Store in sterilized bottles or jars.
Making your own prickly pear syrup at home lets you control the flavor and quality. Refrigerated, homemade prickly pear syrup will keep for 4-6 months.
Prickly pear cactus syrup brings vibrant color and sweet, subtle flavor to drinks, desserts, and more. When stored properly, prickly pear syrup can maintain quality and avoid spoilage for up to 6 months after opening. Keep bottles sealed in the refrigerator and watch for any changes in appearance, texture, and smell that signal it’s gone bad. Discard bottles past the 6 month opened shelf life or showing signs of mold, crystallization, or fermentation. With proper storage and handling, prickly pear syrup is a delicious pantry staple that can be enjoyed long after opening.