THE FOOD SERIES: Pitaya/Dragon Fruit
If there was a list of the most beautiful fruits, pitaya or dragon fruit would definitely (in my opinion) be near the top of the list.
Why are there two names and what is the difference? Well pitaya or pitahaya is the actual name of the fruit. Dragon fruit is the English translation from the many Asian names of the fruit. For example in Vietnamese it is “thanh long” translating to green dragon, in Thai “kaeo mangkon” or dragon crystal, in Indonesian “buah naga” or dragon fruit, and Chinese “huo long guo” or fire dragon fruit.
There are two main categories of pitaya varieties: Stenocerus (the sour variety) and the Hylocereus (the sweet variety). The sweet variety is more common so that is what we will discuss. Within the Hylocereus category there are three more varieties. First is the red/pinkish-skinned, white-fleshed fruit which is most commonly found and has a more milder non-distinctive flavour. Then there is the red-skinned and dark purplish red-fleshed fruit which is said to be juicier and sweeter. Lastly there is the yellow-skinned, white-fleshed fruit, which are typically smaller in size but sweetest of them all. (As seen in the photo)
The overall taste regardless of the variety is a light sweet taste with a flavour that resembles a combination of both a kiwi and a pear. The black seeds are crunchy, like that of kiwis, except they are much bigger.
Native to Central America, dating back to the 13th century, it is now produced around the world, from Southeast Asia, to the United States, to Israel, Australia, Cyprus and the Canary Islands.
Pitaya grows best in moderate climates and has adopted to survive in dry tropical climates with a moderate amount of rain.
Per 100 g:
9.0 g carbs
1.0 g fiber
1.5 g fat
2.0 g protein
9.0 mg vitamin C
1.5 mg iron
60.0 mg sodium
Who would’ve thought pitaya was a source of iron. Iron is not only found in meat… I know… crazy right? Many of us know about the importance of iron so I will just briefly go through it. Iron has so many crucial benefits and functions in the body. First, it enhances the transport of oxygen. All of our tissues need a constant supply of oxygen, which is delivered by our red blood cells. These RBC contain whats called hemoglobin, an iron-containing protein. If you know of, or are iron deficient yourself you may know that lack of energy and fatigue is one of the symptoms of iron deficiency. This is because iron also supports the production of energy through maintaining proper metabolism. Iron deficiency is quite prevalent and is known as iron deficiency anemia. Some symptoms include: fatigue, weakness, pale skin, headache, cold hands and feet, brittle nails, poor appetite as well as chest pain.
Pitaya is also high in fibre. As we all know, fibre, particularly insoluble fibre is necessary to help stimulate and maintain proper bowel movements, keep your gut healthy and prevent constipation. The high fibre along with high water content makes for a great combination to help keep everything working and healthy.
Other health benefits of pitaya include: strengthening the immune system and the cardiovascular system (due to rich amount of antioxidants, Vitamin C, several B vitamins, and the presence of polyunsaturated fats).
WAYS TO ENJOY
Being such a beautiful and unique fruit, you wouldn’t want to consume it in any other form other than its natural form. However, below are a few ways you can change up your pitaya consumption.
But first, I would like to briefly discuss eating the fruit fresh and whole. The fruit may seem intimidating to open and reveal the flesh. However if you have ever gotten your hands on the fruit, you would soon realize how soft the skin really is. You can simply eat it like you would a papaya, cutting it in half and scooping out the flesh, or you can peel the skin off and cut the flesh into pieces, or into whatever shape you like.
Like any fruit, it is great in smoothies. Try a smoothie with 1/2-1 cup of dragon fruit, a handful of strawberries, a banana, your desired greens and some plant-based milk.
If you have access to the red/pinkish-fleshed pitaya, it will turn your smoothie into a stunning and vibrant pink colour. Freeze the pitaya for a few hours or overnight along with some bananas. Simply blend the frozen fruit in a blender until smooth and serve. Add whatever toppings you would like, such as fruit, granola, or other nuts and seeds.
Another delicious treat, especially for a hot summer day would be to indulge in a popsicle. Simply blend coconut milk, frozen pitaya, banana, and any additional sweetener you would like (e.g. dates or maple syrup). Then pour into molds, freeze for 15-20 minutes, add in the popsicle sticks and freeze completely. Yum!!
- Other names of this fruit include: strawberry pear, belle of the night,and Cinderella plant.
- In Nicaragua, they enjoy drinking a beverage made from crushed dragon fruit, water and lime juice.
- Dragon fruit grows on a cactus that blooms for one single night!
- Pollination of the dragon fruit plant is done by nocturnal animals such as bats and moths.
- Pseudohematuria, is a harmless condition that turns the urine reddish.
- It has more than 3x the amount of vitamin C than in carrots!
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES / REFERENCES