Dragon fruit, also known as pitaya or the strawberry pear, is a beautiful tropical fruit that is sweet and crunchy. The plant the fruit comes from is actually a type of cactus of the genus Hylocereus, which includes only about 20 different species. Originally mainly popular in Southeast Asia and Latin America, dragon fruit is now grown and enjoyed all over the world. Though it may look intimidating with its pinkish-red skin and light green scales, preparing this exotic fruit is easy. You can enjoy eating it in fruit salads, it can be used to create tasty drinks and desserts, and it is a wonderful, healthy snack on its own.
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What Is Dragon Fruit?
Dragon fruit was named after its appearance—which is somewhat similar to an artichoke—the pointy "scales" around the oval-shaped fruit reminiscent of a dragon.
The fruit comes in three varieties; two are pink-skinned, one with white flesh and the other with red flesh. The third variety has yellow skin with white flesh. All have tiny black seeds that are edible, just like kiwifruit. Its unique appearance lends itself to serving as is, but this tropical fruit is also wonderful blended into a cocktail. The fruit is quite simple to prepare—just cut down the middle and remove the flesh with a spoon. Depending on the variety and where it was grown, dragon fruit can be a bit pricy.
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How to Use Dragon Fruit
For the most part, dragon fruit is eaten in its raw form, whether served cut up, blended, or frozen. One exception is if you choose to grill it, which can be done on skewers along with another fruit such as pineapple.
As tough as the outer shell may look, dragon fruit is easy to cut. Place the dragon fruit on a cutting board or another clean surface. Cut the fruit straight down the middle with a sharp knife. The fruit can then be separated into two sections.
Removing the fruit's flesh is quite simple and similar to an avocado. (Note that the skin is not edible.) Run a tablespoon around the circumference of each section to separate the flesh from the skin. Using the spoon, lift the flesh out of the skin and place it on the cutting board. Reserve the skin for serving, if desired.
Turn over the mound of flesh, checking for any residual pink skin. If there is any skin, cut it off. Now you can slice up the flesh. Cubes work well for eating the fruit fresh, but you can cut it any way you please.
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Dragon Fruit Recipes
Dragon fruit is often enjoyed on its own, either cut up or eaten right out of the skin. (It's the perfect container for a quick snack—just grab a spoon and dig in.) You can return the cubes of fruit into the skin shell to serve, or simply transfer to a serving dish and enjoy. Or use a melon baller to scoop out the dragon fruit's flesh for a pretty presentation.
Dragon fruit pairs perfectly with fish dishes, particularly cod, tuna, and mahi-mahi. Serve the fruit on the side or chop finely and place it on top of the fish as a salsa. Dragon fruit works well with almost any tropical fruit, so mix it in with mango, papaya, or pineapple.
Dragon fruit's sweet taste also makes for some delicious drinks as well as frozen desserts.
Dragon Fruit Smoothie (Replace the longan fruit with dragon fruit.)Continue to 5 of 8 below.
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Where to Buy Dragon Fruit
Dragon fruit can be found year-round, though the season peaks in summer and lasts into early autumn. Its gnarly looking skin makes it easy to spot in any produce market, but not every grocery store will carry dragon fruit. If your local supermarket does not stock it, check out a specialty store or Asian market.
To choose a ripe dragon fruit, look for bright, even-colored skin. A few blemishes on the skin are normal, but if the fruit has a lot of blotches, it may be too ripe. Hold the dragon fruit in your palm and try pressing the skin with your thumb or fingers. It should give a little but shouldn't be too soft or mushy. If it's very firm, it will need to ripen for a few days.
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Ripe dragon fruit can sit on the counter for a few days. To store it longer, place the fruit in a sealed plastic bag and store it in the refrigerator. This fruit can pick up the flavors and odors of other food, so wrapping it well is necessary.
Don't cut your dragon fruit until you're ready to eat it. Once cut, it needs to be refrigerated in a tightly sealed container just like most cut fruits. It can remain fresh for a day, possibly a little longer, depending on how ripe it is. Once the flesh begins to turn brown and get mushy, it's time to toss it.
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Nutrition and Benefits
Dragon fruit is packed with nutrition and is antioxidant-rich while being low in calories. It is high in vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds that have been linked to reducing cancer risk. The significant level of vitamin C may help to fight chronic disease and boost your immune system.
This fruit is loaded with fiber, providing 7 grams per 1-cup serving, making it a good choice when managing your weight (fiber fills you up) as well as aiding in digestion as it promotes a healthy gut. One of the few fruits that contain iron, dragon fruit can help to raise iron levels—and when in combination with vitamin C, it increases the absorption rate of iron.
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Technically, the types of dragon fruit can be broken down by genus/species/hybrid. The genus Hylocereus has three different species of dragon fruit, while Selenicereus has one, and each species features several hybrids. However, it is much simpler to categorize dragon fruit by their skin and flesh color.
Pink-skinned, white-fleshed dragon fruit (Hylocereus undatus) is the most common. This is the least sweet variety and may be sold under names such as Alice, Cosmic Charlie, David Bowie, Guyute, Harpua, L.A. Woman, Neitzel, Seoul Kitchen, Thompson, and Vietnamese Jaina.
Hylocereus polyrhizus has pink skin with red or pink flesh and is often larger and sweeter than the more common variety. Look for Bloody Mary, Red Jaina, Voodoo Child, and Zamorano.
Hylocereus guatemalensis is the third species of fruit in this genus. It has bright pink skin and purple flesh. Native to Central and South America, it's also grown in Florida and marketed as American Beauty.
The smallest and sweetest variety has yellow skin and white flesh. Grown mostly in South America, Selenicereus megalanthus is the most difficult to find as it is not mass-produced.