Sweet, juicy dragon fruit is obtained from the cactus family plants of Central American origin, in the genus: Hylocereus. They are sold as Pitahaya or Pitaya (Spanish name) in the western markets. It is one of the popular South-East Asian countries, especially in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. Some of the common names are strawberry- pear, thanh long (Vietnamese), Huolóng Guo (Chinese), Doragonfurutsu, and Kæwmangkr (in Thai).
Botanical name: Hylocereus undatus.
|Dragon fruit-Hylocereus undatus. Note for tiny black seeds and rice-white fruit pulp. Courtesy: Hylocereus undatus|
Three common types of Dragon fruit species are:
Red color fruit coat with white color flesh (Hylocereus undatus): Most common type.
Red color fruit coat with red color flesh (Hylocereus polyrhizus).
Yellow color fruit coat with white color flesh (Hylocereus megalanthus).
Hylocereus species grow well under tropical climates. Normally, farmers prefer cuttings of the mother plants for plantation over seedlings. Being a delicate stem plant, pitahaya cactus needs a trellis to support upright growth.
H, undatus begins fruiting from the second year of plantation. By the month of April, many attractive, cream-white colored flowers appear on the plant which blooms at night. Fruits will be ready for harvesting 30-35 days after successful pollination of flowering. The fruiting period, which begins by June will continue up to November. Mature fruits are picked up frequently up to six times during this period.
The outer, thick skin of immature dragon fruits is bright green in color. As the fruit matures and ripen, it turns bright red. On the inside, juicy, semi-translucent, pearly-white flesh is dotted with black seeds dispersing uniformly throughout the flesh. Its texture mimics that of kiwifruit and flavor a reminiscence of melons.
Dragon fruit is modest in calories, comparable to that of kiwifruit, carrying just about 50 calories per 100 g. Nonetheless, it holds many health-benefiting antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and fiber.
Crunchy black seeds of dragon fruit carry an antioxidant phytochemical compound, Phytoalbumin. Some vital functions of Phytoalbumin are improvement of appetite, laxative, and revitailizing skin and hair health.
The fruit is an excellent source of antioxidant vitamin-C; providing about 8-9 mg per 100 g or about 12-15% of the DRI (daily-recommended intake). Consumption of foods rich in vitamin-C helps the body develop resistance to combat against infectious agents and scavenge harmful free radicals.
Red flesh type pitahaya carries a very healthy levels of vitamin-A, and carotenes. Together, these compounds have been known to have antioxidant properties and are essential for good vision. Vitamin-A is also required for maintaining healthy mucosa and skin. Consumption of natural fruits rich in carotenes is known to protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
It also contains good amounts of minerals like phosphorus, manganese, iron, and magnesium. Manganese is utilized by the human body as a co-factor for the powerful antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Magnesium is an important bone-strengthening mineral like calcium.
|Protein||0.159- 0.229 g|
|Total Fat||0.21- 0.61 g|
|Dietary Fiber||0.7- 0.9 g|
|Thiamin||0.28- 0.043 mg|
|Riboflavin||0.043- 0.045 mg|
|Niacin||0.297- 0.43 mg|
|Vitamin C||8.0- 9.0 mg|
|Calcium||6.3- 8.8 mg|
|Iron||0.55- 0.65 mg|
|Phosphorus||30.2- 36.1 mg|
|Carotene||0.005- 0.012 mg|
Fresh dragon fruits hit the markets in Thailand by June end and lasts till November. However, these days fresh pitahaya can be available around the year; thanks to the revolutions in farming, storage, and transportation technologies. In the stores, buy fresh harvest. Look for green-tips on the scales. Ripe fruits just yield to thumb pressure. Though they can be available most of the year, they are at their best from June until December. Only mature fruits are harvested and handled carefully from the H. undatus cactus vine for commercial profits.
At home, ripe fruits are best enjoyed soon after purchase. For extended usage, keep them in the fridge for up to three days. Cut sections, wrapped in a thin plastic cover, can stay well for a week if stored in the refrigerator set at an appropriate humidity.
|Red flesh pitaya-cut sections.|
Wash fruits in cold running water. Fresh, ripe fruits best eaten on their own without any seasonings/additions. Its peel is tough and inedible. Cut the fruit in half. Scoop the flesh using a spoon. It can also cut into slices/cubes.
Here are some serving tips:
Fresh, juicy pitahaya are so delicious that they can be eaten as they are without any seasoning/additions. Enjoy their rich, unique flavor and crunchy texture of tiny black seeds.>
Its flesh can be enjoyed in shakes, sorbets, smoothies, and in fruit cocktails with coconut water, lime juice, honey, etc.
Fresh pitaya chunks can be a great addition in fruit salads.
It is also employed in the preparation of jams, marmalades, jellies, party-cakes, etc.
Allergic reactions to dragon fruit are rare. Pregnant mothers and children can safely eat them. (Medical disclaimer).
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Further reading and Resources:
Stanford School of Medicine Cancer information Page- Nutrition to Reduce Cancer Risk.