Pitahaya, or Dragon Fruit: a 90 Second Primer

Pitahaya, or dragon fruit, at the Mercado Central in Quito

So I just discovered my new favorite fruit. Here in Ecuador it’s called pitahaya (pee TA ha YA), widely known by forms of its English language Asian vernacular, dragon fruit.

Oval and scaly-spiky, it’s a yellow fruit from a cactus that’s filled with the most luscious goodness imaginable. Its white fleshy inside, teeming with tiny edible black seeds swimming in its juicy core, is perfectly sweet. Or, has a sweetness that’s perfect. Take your pick because both are spot on accurate. When it’s cut into for the first time, its fragrant aromas wake up the entire room. I’m reminded of York Peppermint Pattie commercials from the 1970s.

Dragon Fruit, aka Pitahaya, cut in two
Dragon Fruit, aka Pitahaya, cut in two

Believed to originate in Mexico, it was first replanted in Central and South America before Europeans brought it to other parts of the world. As per Wiki, it’s commonly grown in South, East and Southeast Asian countries and has more recently spread to Israel, southern China, northern Australia and Cyprus.

While there is also a common red-skinned variety, the one pictured here is Pitaya amarilla or yellow pitaya (Hylocereus megalanthus), its yellow-skinned cousin. Both are a font of nutrition with some even calling it a superfood.

According to Organic Facts and Lifehack, it is:

  • extremely low in cholesterol
  • a source of monounsaturated fats
  • high in fiber, and
  • rich in antioxidants

It also suppresses arthritis, can help you avoid acne, treat colored hair and sooth sunburned skin.

OK, great, but does it contain aphrodisiac qualities?

As was the case with a similar inquiry last month about achotillo, or rambutan, I have no idea. Again I found several articles and blog posts that include something along the lines of “dragon fruit is said to have aphrodisiac qualities blah blah” but none offer a shred of evidence to support the claim. Yet another reason to hate the internets.

Pitahaya aka dragon fruit at the Mercado Central in Quito
Pitahaya aka dragon fruit at the Mercado Central in Quito

At a dollar apiece, it’s not cheap in a country where small bags of fruit can be gotten for the same price, and a healthy nicely-portioned lunch for just about twice that. The price tag is predictably outrageous in the US and much of Europe, where just one, about the size of an avocado, will set you back five dollars/euros or more. So I’ll plan to continue gettin’ while the gettin’s good.

I’ve read about dragon fruit wine and need to find some. Has anyone ever had a pitahaya martini?

And for the record, today’s Pic du Jour, the blog’s 461st straight, was snapped at the Mercado Central in Quito, Ecuador, on 14 April 2015.


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  1. Michele {Malaysian Meanders} says

    The exterior of the dragon fruit you show in your photo looks very different from the ones I get in SE Asia. I remember cutting into one in Malaysia with white flesh and thinking that it reminded me a lot of the one slice of pitahaya I’d managed to get my hands on in Texas over a decade earlier. The ones you show look just like the ones I first tasted. Here’s the link to the Dragonfruit-Mint-White Wine Sorbet I made. http://malaysianmeanders.blogspot.com/2012/10/mystery-fruit-5-dragonfruit-and-making.html

    1. Bob R says

      Apparently the red skinned ones are more common in Asia – I remember seeing them in Hanoi. Both are quite tasty. But probably not as tasty as the sorbet you made – that looks sensational! Thanks for the recipe, will report back as soon as I get a chance to make it. Which might be a while. 🙂

  2. Arif says

    Dragon fruit also known as Pitaya has many health benefits, rightly said. It improves cardiovascular health, boosts energy, aids digestion, helps to treat diabetes, helps to lose weight, helps to maintain eye health, prevents acne and has many other health benfits.

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