What is a dragon fruit? What does it look like?
Dragon fruit is native to Mexico where it is called pitaya or pitahaya. It is believed to be indigenous to Central and South America, and later transplanted by European explorers and colonizers to Southeast Asia. It is the fruit of a vine, epiphytic cactus from the genus Hylocereus, or the Honolulu Queen. Its flowers only open at night. Its appearance is certainly a spectacle, with its narrow spiny fingers at the base, seemingly clawing out. It has gorgeous white trumpet-shaped flowers with a yellow core, and it gives out a nice fragrant smell.
The dragon fruit typically has bright red leathery skin with green spikes or leaves sticking out. When looked at as a whole, it somehow looks like the scales of a dragon. This is how it got its name “dragon fruit”. You don’t have to look far if you want to know where to find dragon fruit. Now, aside from Central and South America, it grows in Southeast Asia, the United States and Israel. It is also widely available in smoothie packs as it gains popularity as a superfood.
The dragon fruit grows about 150 to 600 grams a fruit, slightly smaller than the cantaloupe, with some growing to be one kilogram or more. There are three types of dragon fruit. The most common one is Hylocereus undatusor pitaya blanca. This is the white-fleshed pitahaya, with the popular red leathery skin. It has many tiny black seeds, which look similar to the seeds of the kiwi fruit. The next one is Hylocereus costaricensis or pitaya roja. This has the same red leathery skin, but when opened, it has a surprisingly deep-red or purple flesh, with the same bounty of small black seeds. The last one is the least common. It is the Hylocereus megalanthus or pitaya amarilla. On the outside, it looks similar to the other two varieties of dragon fruit, except for its bright yellow skin. It doesn’t have green leaf-like tips on its skin either, the entire fruit is yellow but the features are the same. On the inside, it resembles the pitaya blanca, with its white flesh and black seeds.
If you want to learn how to grow dragon fruit, you’re in luck. The dragon fruit is easily propagated, using either cuttings or seeds. The plant is able to adapt to a wide range of soils. For cold-weather areas, you can grown dragon fruit in a greenhouse. However, the plant is sturdy enough to tolerate a light frost. Be sure to allot plenty of space as the cactus will grow to be a large plant.
If you choose to plant your dragon fruit from seeds, you are looking at approximately two years before it starts to bear fruit. Growing the plant from cuttings will yield fruits faster — the longer the cutting, the sooner it can bear fruit. Using seeds is not more difficult; it just takes longer.
You can buy seedlings from professional growers. You can also get cuttings yourself if you have a friend who has the plant. Cut an entire stem segment or six to 12 inches from the tip. Allow it to dry in a shaded area for five to seven days. Afterwards, you can bury your cutting, up to one-third deep. Use a container that is at least 15 to 24 inches in diameter and 10 inches deep. Place your plant in a shady area with some sun.
Once planted, water the cutting well. In succeeding waterings, just keep the soil barely moist until new growth appears. Once your plant takes root, you can transfer it to the ground with rich, well-drained soil. Choose an area where there is a light shade. However, as a young plant, it will grow just fine in the container. But there will come a time when the plant will outgrow the container and you will have to be ready to transplant it when the time comes. If you choose to keep it in the pot, make sure to add a climbing pole.
What does dragon fruit taste like?
When you first see a dragon fruit, the fact that the dragon fruit is even edible may seem weird. The procedure on how to eat dragon fruits may not be intuitive and the fruit doesn’t come with an instruction manual either. The dragon fruit may have exotic looks, but its flavor will be quite familiar. Its taste is not something you have to learn to like. In fact, it’s a very delicious fruit. Learning how to cut dragon fruit is not rocket science. To eat it, you have to peel the skin first. You can either peel the skin away with a knife first, then slice the fruit in half lengthwise or crosswise, and then into smaller slices. Or, you can also cut it in half first, and then peel off the skin with your knife or scoop out the meat of the fruit with a spoon.
When removing the meat or when peeling the skin, try to retain a thin layer of the soft pink inner skin with the meat. The skin of the dragon fruit also contains a lot of nutrients, so try not to miss out on those. Eat the skin too if you can.
Its taste and texture are a cross between that of a kiwi and a pear. It is soft with a slight crunch. It also has a mild sweetness to it that is not overpowering. Its meat contains many seeds, which can be eaten too since they are very small, not like in watermelons where you have to spit out the seeds.
How to tell if a dragon fruit is ripe
If you haven’t seen dragon fruit before, it can certainly look intimidating. The biggest worry of adventurous taste buds is choosing a bad fruit. So here’s a few tips to help you buy the perfect dragon fruit.
Depending on the variety, you will want to look for a dragon fruit that has red or yellow skin. The dragon fruit begins as green in color, and turns red or yellow as it matures. When the skin is bright and even-colored, this means that the fruit is ripe and ready to eat. However, when deep dark bruises start to appear, the fruit is already over-ripe. When pressed, the fruit should give a little but still be firm to the touch. If its soft and mushy, it is overripe. If it is hard, it’s under-ripe.
You can also check the leaf-like spikes on the fruit. When these are bright and colorful, you have to give the fruit more time to ripen. When these start to wither, dry out and turn brown, this is the perfect time to eat it.
When you open your dragon fruit, the inside should either be white or deep red. If the flesh is brown instead, do not eat the fruit. This is already over-ripe.
Knowing which dragon fruit to buy is important. If you buy one that is under-ripe or over-ripe, it will taste poorly. Its reputation as a delicious fruit may be ruined for you forever.
Aside from eating the dragon fruit on its own, there are also tons of dragon fruit recipes you can try.
For the crust, 1 cup dried mulberries; 4 dates; 1 teaspoon cinnamon
For the filling, 5 frozen bananas, 2 cups dragon fruit, ½ cup blueberries, 2 dates, 1 teaspoon vanilla powder
For toppings, sliced strawberries, blueberries
- Combine crust ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until crumbled and well-combined. Pour the crust in the bottom of your container. Press on it with your finger or the back of a spoon to pack it in.
- Combine the filling ingredients in a high-speed blender. Turn it on and let it do its magic. Pour this on top of the crust.
- Top it off with strawberries and blueberries.
Ingredients: shredded coconut, Pitaya Plus Smoothie Pack, pineapple juice, your favorite fruits and of course, your favorite pancake mix
- Cook the pancakes as directed.
- Mix Pitaya Plus with pineapple juice. Dissolve the mix slowly by adding in the pineapple juice little by little. This way, you can find the right taste and texture for you. Use like maple syrup.
- Top your pancakes with your favorite fruits and shredded coconut.
Pitaya & Chia Seed Pudding
In a container, combine 1½ cups of almond milk, or your preferred milk; 5 tablespoons chia seeds, ⅓ cup chopped dragon fruit; 2 pieces of dates, chopped; 2 tablespoons raw walnuts, ⅓ cup blueberries or raspberries. Stir your concoction after 15 minutes then refrigerate overnight. Top with fresh berries before serving.
Dragon fruit nutrition
The dragon fruit is considered a tropical superfood due to the density of nutrients it holds. It has low calorie content, but is rich in fiber and vitamin C, aside from tons of other vitamins and minerals.
Here are the nutrition facts for a dragon fruit, for a serving size of 100 grams or 3.50 oz.
- Calories: 52
- Protein: 1.10 grams
- Fat: 0.4 gram
- Carbohydrates: 11 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Vitamin C: 34% of recommended daily intake (RDI)
- Iron: 10.6% of RDI
- Thiamine: 2.7% of RDI
- Riboflavin: 2.9% of RDI
Are there any health benefits of dragon fruit?
There are plenty of health benefits that come with dragon fruit. As a nutrient-rich fruit, it boosts the immune system, improves digestion, lowers blood glucose levels, prevents cancer, and controls cholesterol levels.
- Boosting the immune system. The dragon fruit is rich in vitamin C and fiber. These are essential to good overall health.
- Improving digestion. Aside from containing lots of fiber, the dragon fruit also promotes the growth of probiotics in the intestines. Dragon fruit does not only aid in digestion, it also helps regulate bowel movement. This saves you from bothersome issues like constipation and irritable bowel syndrome, and even colorectal cancer down the line.
- Lowering blood sugar. There is a study that suggests that the glucose present in this fruit helps control the blood sugar levels of diabetes patients.
- Preventing cancer. The dragon fruit has antioxidant properties which prevent the formation of free radicals and accumulation of toxins, which cause cancer.
- Controlling cholesterol levels. The seeds contain good cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) which actively decreases the amount of bad cholesterol in the body. HDL does this by inhibiting the receptors that bad cholesterol uses to bind to arterial walls. In addition to that, the dragon fruit is rich in flavonoids, making it effective in preventing and maintaining cardio-related diseases like heart attack, stroke, and atherosclerosis.
- The dragon fruit is considered a tropical superfood due to the density of nutrients it holds. It has low calorie content, but is rich in fiber and vitamin C, aside from tons of other vitamins and minerals.
- The dragon fruit may have exotic looks, but its flavor will be quite familiar. Its taste and texture are a cross between that of a kiwi and a pear.
- Dragon fruit is believed to be indigenous to Central and South America, and later transplanted by European explorers and colonizers to Southeast Asia.