Have you tried dragon fruit yet? You may have heard that this ugly tropical fruit is bland. Dr. Oz calls it the “cauliflower of fruit,” while Rachel Ray says dragon fruit is like an “anemic kiwi.” Not exactly glowing endorsements of the flavour!
Between it being ugly and unfamiliar, and these less than enthusiastic descriptions of the dragon fruit’s taste, you may be hesitant to buy one and try it yourself. I know I avoided it for a long time because I figured there wasn’t any point in paying a premium price for an exotic fruit that had basically no taste.
What is Dragon Fruit?
So what exactly is a dragon fruit? The name initially made me think it was an Asian fruit. And indeed, it does now grow in some parts of Southeast Asia. The name is a translation of the Chinese “fire dragon fruit.”
Also known as pitaya or pitahaya, the fruit is actually from Mexico originally. And it’s not just one fruit, but the fruit of several flowering cacti in the genus Hylocereus.
What Does Dragon Fruit Look Like?
Hylocereus undatus is the dragon fruit pictured above. It’s the one that has a pink, scaly skin and white pulp studded with tiny black seeds. This is the variety my kids and I tasted, and the one that’s probably the easiest to find in your grocery store.
In Mexico, it’s sometimes called Reina de la noche. One of its folk names in English is Belle of the Night. This alludes to the fact that the flowers of the pitaya cactus bloom at night. For this reason, the cactus relies on nocturnal pollinators such as bats.
Besides this more common fruit, there are two other main types: the yellow-skinned variety, and the dragon fruit varieties whose pulp is red, purple, or pink. Yellow dragon fruit is known for standing up better to transport. The darker-fleshed varieties tend to be sweeter tasting, and provide larger quantities of antioxidants.
What Does Dragon Fruit Taste Like?
Dragon fruit does have a reputation for being bland. Admittedly, it isn’t a fruit with a bold flavour. It isn’t completely without a taste, though. It’s just subtle.
Some people say it tastes a little like a milder version of the kiwi fruit. And its texture certainly does remind me of a kiwi. Both fruits have those crunchy little seeds embedded in the juicy flesh. So if you closed your eyes as you put a spoonful of dragon fruit into your mouth, you might think you were eating some kind of kiwi.
But to me, it more closely resembles an Asian pear. I think it’s both the taste of the pulp, and the fact that the fruit feels more starchy in my mouth. That slight stickiness really made me think more of an Asian pear than a kiwi. Others have mentioned dragon fruit tastes like a pear to them too.
The darker-fleshed dragon fruit varieties are supposed to have a stronger flavour to them. They are also said to be sweeter. So if you’re after a more robust flavour, try to find Hylocereus costaricensis.
The video is long, but it shows many different varieties & discusses their taste
Dragon Fruit Nutrition
According to Healthline, dragon fruit counts as a nutrient dense fruit. It’s low cal and low in fats. It’s also rich in both fiber and vitamin C. In fact, calorie for calorie, dragon fruit provides more of both of these nutrients than an orange.
While some fruits are not suitable for a low carb or ketogenic diet, dragon fruit is low enough in carbohydrates to be safe. A 100 gram portion supplies 11 grams of carbs, but one dragon fruit is a little more than half that in weight. So figure about 6-7 grams of carbs per fruit. Dragon fruit smoothies are very popular right now with folks who eat low carb.
You might not expect a fruit to supply a significant amount of iron, but 100 grams of dragon fruit provides more than 10% of your day’s iron. The fruit also provides moderate amounts of B vitamins, and several antioxidants. Flavonoids promote both neurological and heart health. Hydroxycinnamates fight cancer. And betalains (the same antioxidant pigment found in beets) help to protect certain types of fatty acids from oxidation damage. This can contribute to healthy levels of LDL cholesterol, among other things.
So for a fruit that many people find boring, this ugly tropical fruit packs a decent nutritional punch!
Buying & Storing Your Fruit
The pitaya cactus bears fruit for about five months of the year. Harvest times obviously depend on where your fruit is coming from, as there are seasonal differences from one place to another.
In the US, the season starts in late summer. But these days, you may be able to find dragon fruit all year round. We found ours in late February.
Buy fruit that has a uniform pink skin and healthy looking green scales. If the scales are yellow or brown, the fruit probably isn’t very fresh. The fruit should be firm, with a slight give. Avoid fruits that are overly hard, or that have pitted skins or blemishes.
To be honest, our dragon fruit didn’t stick around long enough for us to worry about storage. But in theory, this is a tropical fruit that prefers to be kept cooler than room temperature. The ideal temperature is warmer than the fridge, and just slightly warmer than even a wine fridge. It’s a little like storing tomatoes.
Counter or Fridge?
So, basically, store on your counter for up to a few days. For longer storage, you’ll need a cool space. If you have a cold room or a cool attic, that might be the best place to store dragon fruit long term. The fridge should be your last resort because it’s colder than the fruit really wants to be.
Being a relatively soft-skinned fruit, dragon fruit needs a little protection if you store it in the fridge with other foods. Otherwise, it will end up taking on the flavours of other foods – possibly your stinky cheeses or last night’s leftover garlic pasta! Put your pitaya fruit in a paper bag and store it in the vegetable crisper, if you must refrigerate it.
Some people suggest using a plastic bag, but I’m not terribly keen on storing fresh fruit in plastic if I can avoid it. Also, those who advocate plastic say it will last a few days. On the other hand, Jenny Harrington of LEAF TV says in paper, dragon fruit will keep in the fridge for up to 3 months. If you haven’t gobbled it up before then!
As with any fresh produce, don’t wash or cut dragon fruit before you store it. The fruit should be stored dry and whole. If you only use half a pitaya fruit or you have leftover pulp, store it in an airtight container and use it within a day or two.
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Original content © 2018 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter
Public domain images by Pixabay users HelgaKa, ponce_photography,
Dragon fruit photo by Roei Tabak/Wikimedia used under a Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license
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