Dragon fruit (also known as pitaya or pitahaya) is fast becoming a popular fruit in the United States due to the many health benefits it provides. I asked Jody Victor® to tell us all about it.
Jody Victor®: The dragon fruit dates back to the Central American Aztecs of the 13th century. The French brought the dragon fruit to Vietnam (where it is known as thang loy) over a century ago to be eaten by royalty and very wealthy families. The legend of dragon fruit tells of Asian fire-breathing dragons that spewed the dragon fruit just before death in a battle. Soldiers would collect the fruit and present it to the emperor. Then they would eat the “flesh of the dragon” to gain strength for their battles.
Dragon fruit grows in dry, tropical or subtropical climates and is not sensitive to soil types. It prefers hot regions with a heavy rainfall. The dragon fruit is very much cultivated today in the countries of Asia including Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia. It is also cultivated in Mexico, Israel, and South America and is now flourishing in Texas.
Dragon fruit comes from a vining cactus that can grow on its own or climb onto trees using its roots as anchors. The plant of the dragon fruit can grow from around a few inches up to twenty feet around. The flowers of the dragon fruit only bloom at night and usually only for one night. Pollination happens during this time to allow the fruit to emerge. The flowers have a very beautiful scent that fills the night air wherever it grows. The cactus will produce fruit a few times each year.
Dragon fruit looks a little like a pink or yellow artichoke with a lot less “leaves”. Its flesh can be pink, magenta, or white. Pink dragon fruit can have white or magenta flesh. Yellow dragon fruit has white flesh. Look for bright, even colored skin. If the fruit has a lot of blotches, it may be over-ripe. Other signs that the fruit may be over-ripe are very dry, brittle brown stems and browning on the tips of the “leaves”. Hold the dragon fruit in the palm of your hand and try to press the skin with your thumb or fingers. It should give a little like a ripe kiwi but should not be too soft or mushy. If it is very firm, it will need to ripen for a few days. Dragon fruit should be refrigerated, unwashed, for up to 5 days.
Dragon fruit is best eaten by cutting the fruit in half and scooping the flesh out. The flavor of dragon fruit is very refreshing and sweet and has been described as tasting like a cross between a kiwi and a pear. Dragon fruit should be served chilled. It can be added to fruit salads or blended into juices and jams.
Dragon fruit has many health benefits because of the vitamins and minerals it contains. Vitamin C is the most abundant nutrient found in dragon fruit. It also contains Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B3, phosphorus, iron, calcium, carotene, and protein. It is a good source of antioxidants, which keep your body looking young and healthy by replacing dead skin cells with new young cells. Dragon fruit protects your immune system and lowers your cholesterol.
Calcium – strengthens bones and helps teeth development.
Carotene – improves memory.
Carotene – maintains eye health.
Fiber – improves digestion and reduces fat.
Iron – carries oxygen to blood cells.
Phosphorus – aids tissue development.
Protein – enhances body metabolism.
Vitamin B1 – helps to metabolize carbs and produce energy.
Vitamin B2 – improves appetite.
Vitamin B3 (niacin) – moisturizes and smoothes skin and decreases bad cholesterol.
Vitamin C – improves immune system and promotes healing of cuts and bruises.
All the Best!