I discovered the beautiful dragon fruit (also known as pitaya or pitahaya) on a recent trip to southwest Florida. The vivid pink color and the pointy scales make this colorful cactus fruit hard to miss. The dragon fruit is native to Central and South America, but also thrives in the warm tropical climates of southern Florida and California.
Dragon fruit is a popular ingredient in Thai cooking and is commonly used throughout Southeast Asia. The sweet, juicy taste, amazing beauty, and extraordinary health benefits of the dragon fruit have grabbed the attention of Americans. It can be found in many trendy teas, cocktails, and sorbets as well as the produce section at your local grocery store.
Health Benefits of Dragon Fruit
One small dragon fruit, weighing 198 grams, has just 60 calories. Those 60 calories pack 14 grams of carbs, 1 gram of fiber, 2 grams of protein and 0.4 grams of fat, making the Dragon fruit a healthy snack choice. Instead of the empty calories found in most processed snack foods, the Dragon Fruit delivers real nutrients that your body can quickly absorb and put to use.
One of the most beneficial qualities of the dragon fruit is the amount of antioxidants it contains. Antioxidants protect your cells from oxidative damage by free radicals, which may help lower your risk of heart disease and cancer. The fruit also contains Vitamin C, calcium, iron. Surprisingly, one small fruit provides you with 8% of your daily iron requirements according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.
How to Choose a Dragon Fruit
Dragon fruit tastes like a combination of things. I found it to taste like a combination of kiwi, pear, watermelon and zucchini; a surprisingly tasty medley of flavors. There are some very small seeds that are edible and contain some healthy fats and proteins. It would be hard to remove the seeds unless you pressed the pulp through a strainer, which I don’t think is necessary.
According to LiveStrong.com, there a three steps to selecting a ripe and ready dragon fruit:
- Examine the outer skin of the dragon fruit. Dragon fruit is either bright pink or deep golden in color. Look for skin that is evenly colored and devoid of bruises and knife marks. While some variation in the skin is common, the fruit should generally be the same color all over. Splotchy could be a sign that the fruit is overripe.
- Touch the stem of the dragon fruit. A brittle stem denotes an overripe fruit, so look for a stem with slight pliancy.
- Examine the leaves or the petals that cover the outside of the fruit. They should be brightly colored, without browning on the ends, another sign of overripe fruit.
- Press your finger into the skin of the dragon fruit. A perfectly ripe fruit will give slightly to the pressure, much like a ripe avocado or mango. If your finger presses into the fruit too easily or the fruit is too hard, choose another dragon fruit.
- Smell the dragon fruit, looking for a light and tropical aroma. This is a sign that the flesh inside will be ripe and sweet.
- Place your purchased dragon fruit on your counter at room temperature to ripen it for use. The fruit is ripe when the pink or yellow color of the exterior darkens, after which you can transfer the fruit into your refrigerator for up to five days.
How to Eat A Dragon Fruit
The easiest way to eat dragon fruit is to slice it in half vertically and spoon out the pulp. You can also cut it up into squares or scoop it out like melon balls. It is best served chilled.
Where to Purchase Dragon Fruit
Asian markets, farm stands, and health food stores are all good bets. I have seen it show up in local grocery stores recently, so you may also find it there. You can find it online, but I would suggest trying to find it locally first.