What is Dragon Fruit?
Dragon fruit is a flamboyant, brightly colored fruit originating from Central America that possesses a delicious taste and is full of valuable nutrients. The fruit is best known for its extravagant decoration and unique name. Dragon fruit is also commonly known as pitaya (sometimes spelled pitahaya), naga fruit, moonlovers, night-blooming Cereus, strawberry pear, belle of the night, and Conderella plant. There are 2 types of dragon fruit, which are named according to the genuses of cacti that produce the fruit (Stenocereus and Hylocereus). The Hylocereus genus of cactus produces the most popular and well-known kind of fruit, which comes in 3 different varieties:
- Red/pink skin with green leaves and white flesh with black seeds
- Red/pink skin with green leaves and purplish/reddish flesh with black seeds
- Yellow skin with green leaves and white flesh with black seeds
The Hylocereus cactus produces dragon fruit that is ovular/circular in shape and about the size and weight of a small melon. This is the variety that this article will discuss unless otherwise stated.
How Does Dragon Fruit Taste?
Despite its bright colors, dragon fruit possesses a surprisingly delicate, floral flavor unlike that of any other fruit. The fruit is sweet, with the purple-fleshed variety having an almost citrusy, tart undertone. The white-fleshed variety has a light and juicy texture. Because dragon fruit is almost 80% water, the flavor is very subtle and the flesh is moist. The dragon fruit seeds usually carry the true sweetness of the fruit. Because dragon fruit has such a slight flavor, the taste shouldn’t be offensive to very many individuals, so trying the fruit doesn’t have to be scary (other fruits with stronger flavors may provoke stronger preferences for some people).
The fruit’s flesh has a texture reminiscent of kiwi fruit. Dragon fruit flesh is filled with an abundance of tiny black seeds, which can and should be eaten with the rest of the fruit. These seeds hold a large portion of the dragon fruit’s nutritional value, including omega fatty acids.
Another type of dragon fruit known as Stenocereus gummosus has a more sour flavor, and is often referred to as “pitaya agria (sour pitaya)” by locals from its native habitat in Mexico and Central America. All the different types of dragon fruit grown in different areas of the world boast a unique and individual flavor; they’re all worth a try!
How to Eat Dragon Fruit
Dragon fruit preparation is simple. The fruit can be eaten after peeling without any additional preparation necessary. The seeds in dragon fruit are edible, so there’s no need to worry about removing these. In fact, dragon fruit seeds carry a lot of health benefits! After peeling, the fruit can be sliced into any shape or eaten whole without any extra cutting. Dragon fruit can also be juiced, mixed into desserts like chia pudding, or added into salsas, smoothies, ice cream, and other various types of recipes. Some people make wine from the flesh of the dragon fruit.
The dragon fruit skin isn’t usually eaten, since it’s tough and can be difficult to eat due to its chewy texture. However, the leaves and skin of the dragon fruit can be made into a tea; I wasn’t able to find any information about how to do this from home, but hopefully more information will become available as the fruit becomes more popular. (View this link for some information about the potential health benefits of drinking tea made from dragon fruit skin and leaves.)
Even though the skin of the dragon fruit is generally heralded as something you shouldn’t eat, it is in fact edible. This doesn’t change the fact that the skin can be tough, but proper preparation can make the skin edible and allow us to reap the benefits of valuable nutrients in the skin. View the section of this article about Dragon Fruit Nutrition for more information on the nutrients found in both the flesh and the skin of the fruit.
How to Peel Dragon Fruit and Prepare it for Eating
First, cut the pitaya from pole to pole (from the “top” to the “bottom”), and then chop off the top of the dragon fruit where all the leaves come together to form a crown. Carefully pull away the skin from the flesh using your thumbs. After this, the dragon fruit can be cut, juiced, mashed, or prepared in any other way desired. It’s also possible to simply cut the dragon fruit “pole to pole” and then use a spoon to scrape out and eat the flesh, similar to a kiwi. A melon baller may also be used to remove the flesh from the dragon fruit, if desired.
To prepare the skin of the dragon fruit, some people recommend cutting it into small pieces and putting it on top of salads or other savory dishes (but, be warned that the skin is usually quite bitter). Steeping dragon fruit skin as a tea may also be effective for extracting the nutrients from the dragon fruit skin. Yet other individuals have recommended incorporating the dragon fruit skin into smoothies. The current information about the consumption of dragon fruit skin is minimal.
Where is Dragon Fruit Grown?
This might come as a shock, but dragon fruit actually originates from Central and South America, contrary to the popular belief that the fruit is indigenous to Southeast Asia. The dragon fruit is the fruit of a cactus “tree”. There are 2 geni of cacti that produce dragon fruit: the Stenocereus genus and the Hylocereus genus. Both are from the Cactaceae family. For most people, the most recognizable variety of dragon fruit comes from the Hylocereus genus; this is the variety that usually produces ovular fruits with red or pink skin with green/yellow leaves. The Stenocereus cactus genus produces fruits that are small, round, and usually covered in little spikes. These fruits are commonly known as “pitaya” while the dragon fruits from the Hylocereus genus are referred to as “pitahaya” among people in Central and South America.
The term “Dragon Fruit” is a translation of the terms coined in Southeast Asian languages to describe the fruit. For example “Naga Fruit” (it’s not fully anglicized) is referring to the the “naga”, which is specifically known as a mythological serpent from Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain mythology that can be compared to a dragon. In Southeast Asia, the dragon fruit is grown across numerous countries, including Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Phillipines, with Vietnam now being one of the world’s largest growers of the fruit.
Dragon fruit is also cultivated in northern Australia, southern China, and Israel. In Central/South America, the fruit is most often grown in Mexico, Nicaragua, Colombia, Belize, and Guatemala. In the United States, dragon fruit is grown on a small-scale in California, Hawaii, and Florida.
Dragon Fruit Nutrition
Dragon fruit is categorized as a superfood, meaning that it is high in many nutrients and can provide the body with a slew of valuable vitamins, minerals, and other substances. The term “superfood” is somewhat ambiguous, but most people agree that dragon fruit fits the definition because of its diverse nutrient profile.
The flesh of dragon fruit is particularly high in the following nutrients:
- Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that is particularly well known for its role in supporting immunity. This vitamin is also an antioxidant, and, when used properly in high doses, can be used as an effective cancer treatment. In dragon fruit, vitamin C is present as 10% of the daily value.
The presence of iron in dragon fruit makes the fruit a good choice for individuals who currently have or have previously had problems with anemia. Iron supports the body in the production of hemoglobin
Magnesium is especially important for individuals with cardiovascular disease. This nutrient can be taken as a supplement in the form of an oral pill or a topical oil to support digestive and cardiovascular functions. Additional consumption of foods like dragon fruit that contain magnesium is ideal.
- B Vitamins
The dragon fruit is high in all of the B-complex vitamins, but it is particularly high in vitamin B3. The presence of B vitamins in dragon fruit is even more valuable because of the fact that the fruit contains no complex carbohydrates, meaning that the digestion of this fruit is made easier because vitamins like thiamin (B1) can assist the breakdown of the food more efficiently. The dragon fruit is an easily digested food.
Captin is a phytonutrient that is found in particularly high levels in dragonfruit. This component is sometimes linked to the alleviation of heart problems, and has been used in heart medications.
Antioxidants are particularly important for detoxification of the body; eating dragon fruit, a food high in antioxidants, can help the body get rid of heavy metals and other various toxins. Antioxidants can also be crucial in fighting cancer, which can be observed with how high-doses of vitamin C, a type of antioxidant, can provide a veritable cancer cure.
Carotenes and lycopenes are two types of antioxidants abundant in dragon fruit. Lycopenes give the dragon fruit its characteristic pinkish-red color, and have been linked to lowered risk of prostate cancer. The carotenes present in dragon fruit are also known for their ability to shrink tumors and present anti-carcinogenic properties.
- Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
Among many polyunsaturated fatty acids found in the seeds of the dragon fruit, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, linoleic acid, and linolenic acid are particularly abundant. These fatty acids are crucial for digestion and can be an additional support against cardiovascular disease.
Both phosphorus and iron are important nutrients for supporting and creating healthy blood and tissues.
The dragon fruit seeds are particularly high in protein, similar to chia seeds, flaxseeds, and other similar seeds. So although dragon fruit has a light texture and flavor, it can actually be quite filling and sustaining!
People considering a vegan diet may be concerned about sources of calcium without dairy products. Dragon fruit is only one of many good plant-based sources of calcium.
The skin of the dragon fruit isn’t usually eaten, but it can be eaten, and it in fact contains valuable nutrients. The dragon fruit peel is high in anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that are up to 10 times more potent than beta-carotenes. Anthocyanins can be stored by the body in the blood for up to 75 hours after consumption, meaning that the body can use these nutrients for just over 3 days after the consumption of foods that contain the nutrients, like dragon fruit skin. These antioxidants are known for their anti-cancer abilities as well as for their effects on arterial elasticity and overall health; anthocyanins have been known to lower blood pressure because of this. (Check out this article for more information about anthocyanins in dragon fruit flesh)
What is Dragon Fruit Good For?
Dragon fruit has numerous culinary, medicinal, and cosmetic uses. The culinary uses of dragon fruit are listed above in the How to Eat Dragon Fruit section; this section will focus specifically on the medicinal uses of fruit, but will briefly look at the cosmetic uses of dragon fruit as well.
The dragon fruit is good for many different health ailments and diseases, including (but not limited to):
The antioxidants (vitamin C, carotenes, lycopenes) in dragon fruit have been shown to possess anticarcinogenic qualities. The dragon fruit is specifically good for patients with prostate, colorectal, or colon cancer who are following a complete anti-cancer protocol or anti-cancer diet.
- Type 2 Diabetes
Studies have linked regular consumption of dragon fruit to lower blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics as well as improved health in prediabetics. This regulatory effect on blood sugar levels may be due to the high fiber content in the fruit (see this article).
- Constipation and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome),
Dragon fruit is high in fiber, and as such it can have a positive effect on keeping the digestive systems functioning optimally.
- Immune infections (dengue, the common cold, etc.)
The antioxidants in dragon fruit have a curative effect on immune diseases. Some people may be familiar with how drinking orange juice and taking plenty of vitamin C can help them recover from colds faster and fight them off more effectively in the future. Dragon fruit is high in vitamin C (like oranges) as well as other antioxidants, and thus it can help individuals to fight off immune infections in a similar (if not more effective way) that oranges can.
Dragon fruit is a good source of iron, meaning that the fruit can be excellent for individuals who are currently struggling with anemia or who have previously had issues with anemia.
Dragon fruit is also antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. It improves cognitive function and has components that are particularly good for eye health. For more detailed information about the exact uses and nutritional makeup of dragon fruit, visit this link.
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