June 2010 Issue

Dragon Fruit
By Chef Kyle Shadix, MS, RD
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 12 No. 6 P. 64

These days, with so many “superfruits” making headlines, it’s difficult to keep on top of the trend. These fruits and their extracts are popping up in countless products—from carbonated soft drinks to shower gels.

One such fruit making its way to mainstream America is dragon fruit. On a recent visit to Brooklyn, a friend handed me a bottle of Vitamin Water’s new Dragon Fruit Energy Drink. In the grocery store later that day, I noticed Febreze Fabric Refresher in a dragon fruit scent. Additionally, while showering the next morning, I discovered that my partner had purchased a new body wash: Axe Fever Shower Gel, Brazilian Hot Mud + Red Dragon Fruit Extract. As I washed my hair, I began to ponder this “new” mysterious fruit that seems to be forcing its way into my life whether I like it or not.

Dragon fruit, also knows as pitaya, strawberry pear, or nanettikafruit, belongs to the cactus family and is either red or white, the former being the most widely available in the United States.1 Native to Mexico and Central and South America, the vinelike cacti are also cultivated in Asian countries such as Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia. The ornamental climbing dragon fruit vine produces one of the most exotic fruits I have ever seen. The red skin variety can weigh up to 2 lbs, has a translucent dark-red flesh, and is considered a rich source of nutrients and minerals (eg, potassium, protein, fiber, sodium, calcium).

Common international nutrient claims suggest that dragon fruit aids the digestive process, prevents colon cancer and diabetes, neutralizes toxic substances (eg, heavy metal), reduces cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, and, when consumed regularly, may help with asthma and cough. Unless there are evidence-based data to back up these claims, I remain skeptical; however, the fruit’s name and taste alone are enough reason to pick one up at your local Asian market.

When I went to Chinatown to find a ripe and ready-to-eat dragon fruit, I was told to look for bright, even-colored skin. If the fruit has many blotches, it may be overripe. (A few blotches are normal, though.) Another sign of overripe dragon fruit is a very dry, brittle brown stem or brown on the tips of the “leaves.” Hold the dragon fruit in your palm and try pressing the skin with your thumb or fingers; it should give a little (like a ripe kiwi) but shouldn’t be too soft or mushy. If it’s very firm, it will need to ripen for a few days.

The fruits have a creamy pulp and a delicate aroma and are sweet and crunchy, with a refreshing flavor that’s a cross between a kiwi and a pear.2 The dragon fruit is best eaten by cutting the fruit in half and scooping out the flesh. Dragon fruits are delicious when chilled and can be served in fruit juices or fruit salads or made into an exotic and unique jam.

— Chef Kyle Shadix, MS, RD, is a culinary nutrition communications consultant in New York City and online at www.chefkyle.com.

Dragon Fruit Preserves

1⁄2 lemon, juiced
1 lb dragon fruit, peeled, cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes
1 1⁄2 cups granulated white sugar

In a heavy stockpot, combine all ingredients, bring to a rolling boil, and cook, stirring frequently, for 15 to 20 minutes or until the temperature of the mixture has reached 220˚F.

Transfer the mixture to a jar and chill. Keep in the refrigerator.

Nutrient Analysis for 1 T serving
Calories: 51
Fat: 0 g
Saturated fat: 0 g
Trans fat: 0 g
Carbohydrate: 14 g
Fiber: 0 g
Sodium: 14 mg
Protein: 0 g
Note: Because information on dragon fruit is not listed in the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, I have included the nutrient analysis for generic fruit preserves.

1. Raveh E, Weiss J, Nerd A, Mizrahi Y. Pitayas (genus Hylocereus): A new fruit crop for the Negev Desert of Israel. In: Janick J, Simon JE (eds). New Crops. New York: Wiley; 1993; 491-495.

2. Mizrahi Y, Nerd A. Climbing and columnar cacti: New arid land fruit crops. In: Janick J (ed). Perspectives on New Crops and New Uses. Alexandria, Va.: ASHS Press; 1999; 358-366.