Acitrón is one of the few ingredients used for Mexican cooking that is still very hard to find outside of Mexico. Acitrón is made with the pad or paddle-leaf-of a cactus plant called biznaga, which is similar to the prickly pear but rounder in shape and it also grows in dry land. To make acitrón, the leaves are peeled off the outer skin along with the little thorns, sometimes soaked in a lime solution, dried in the sun and finally simmered in a syrup made with water and sugar or honey, then left to dry again.
In Mexico it is sold in stores and markets in square or rectangular small blocks along with other candied fruits or vegetables, of which my favorite is the candied sweet potato or camote.
Acitrón, with its pleasant and mildly sweet flavor and chewy consistency, is mixed with other ingredients ironically heightening the flavors of those other ingredients. It is used to make many dishes such as the famous Chiles en Nogada, picadillos or meat fillings for other chiles and tamales, in their savory or sweet takes, as well as in breads like Rosca de Reyes and also just as a candy.
For dishes that call for acitrón, if you can’t get your hand on any, you can substitute with candied pineapple, mostly the kind that comes without a heavy sugar coating.