The first time I ate dragon fruit was in Hong Kong, and then in Thailand in 1994. Later, I found them in Mexico. Recently, I tasted some in South Florida. Now, I grow my own!
A family of vine-like cactus of the genus Hylocereus produces Pitaya, or “dragon fruit,” one of the newest super foods. It’s easy to cultivate, in the right climate, and is fast growing in semitropical weather, preferring to climb on a trellis. Pitaya blooms in white flowers only at night, often during the full moon, giving off a delicate fragrance that attracts nighttime pollenating insects. The most common pitaya (Hylocereus undatus) for the commercial market produces a fruit as large as your palm. It’s bright pink outside and an immaculate white dotted with small black seeds inside. The texture is soft like custard and has a plain, slightly sweetish sour taste, and the seeds are crunchy. Dragon fruit looks more dramatic than it tastes.
Since it’s so not sweet, unlike most tropical fruits, dragon fruit doesn’t have a lot of calories. One 100 gram serving contains only 60 calories. In comparison, a banana has about 90 calories per 100 grams. A boiled potato has 109 calories. The flesh is not a super star in the fiber arena with only 1 gram of fiber per serving, but it has no cholesterol or saturated fats. In fact, the seeds are rich in healthy fatty acids. Dragon fruit is one of but a few fruits allowed on a low-fructose diet.
Fatty Acid Content of White-Fleshed Dragon Fruit Seeds
- Myristic acid 0.3%
- Palmitic acid 17.1%
- Stearic acid 4.37%
- Palmitoleic acid 0.61%
- Oleic acid 23.8%
- Cis-vaccenic acid 2.81%
- Linoleic acid 50.1%
- Linolenic acid 0.98%
Dragon fruit contains many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B2, vitamin B3, iron, phosphorus, vitamin C, vitamin A, and calcium. Antioxidant levels in dragon fruit are high, especially a class of compounds called “phytoalbumins.” It’s the peel that contains most of this class of polyphenols, which are being investigated for their potential to inhibit cancer.
Chinese researchers found three new glycoside compounds they termed “undatusides” and eleven known compounds from the flowers of Hylocereus undatus. An extract of the pulp softens stiffness in major arteries and has a beneficial antioxidant influence on the heart. Some of the other health benefits attributed to dragon fruit besides cancer prevention include preventing memory loss, lowering blood glucose, and improving blood pressure. It seems that dragon fruit has a beneficial effect on many body systems, including the skin, bones, teeth, eyes, and it can promotes wound healing. It also helps detoxify heavy metals from the body.
Though not a part of classical Chinese medicine, in Asia, traditional practitioners have defined it’s qualities and properties. Dragon fruit is considered cooling, so it helps clear red eyes and calms indigestion. It also has gentle laxative effects so can treat constipation, a condition traditional Chinese medicine associates with the accumulation of heat in the gastrointestinal track. It is also used to sooth a cough and relieve wheezing.
As a new super food dragon fruit is making cameo appearances in antioxidant infusions, flavored bottled waters, in tangy packets of Emergen-C, and as dragon fruit flavored vodka. Why not try making your own super food infusion?
How to Enjoy
To prepare dragon fruit, slice it long ways. Then, run a tablespoon around the circumference of the first section to separate the flesh from the skin. The red skin is not edible. Slice or dice and eat as a fruit salad or as a side dish with Thai noodles. Or, infuse dragon fruit is pure water to make a sun tea, or in organic vodka to make flavored, antioxidant rich cocktails.
All ages can enjoy dragon fruit. You’ll find it during the summer in Asian markets and health food stores, or imported from Asia or South America during the winter months. Dragon fruit is so psychedelic looking you can’t miss it.
If you live in southern California or Florida, try growing your own in the garden or a large pot. My dragon fruit plants are fast growing, and soon I’ll post photos from my own amazing dragon fruit!
Warning: People with kidney disease, kidney failure, or kidney stones, and those with rheumatoid arthritis or vulva pain, should avoid dragon fruit because of its oxalic acid content. If you’re unsure of whether your medical condition is sensitive to oxalic acid, talk with your doctor.