Dragon Fruit

Organic dragon fruit farm in Myanmar

Dragon Fruit is a highly nutritious tropical cactus fruit native to Central and South America, where it is known as Pitaya (the name specifically comes from Mexico). The greatest popularity and cultivation of dragon fruit is now in Southeast Asia, however, where countries like Thailand, Vietnam and Taiwan consume it with gusto and also account for a large portion of global dragon fruit production and distribution. A growing Dragon fruit industry in recently “open-for-business” Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Israel and some warmer parts of the United States, are now cultivating dragon fruit as well.

The common modern name, “dragon fruit,” is derived from the unique appearance, which when introduced to Asia from South America by European colonizers, conjured up images of fires and scales of a dragon (dragons being an important character in Chinese mythology). There is some controversy as to when the climbing-cactus plant that pitaya grows from was first planted in Southeast Asia, though many believe it was introduced first in Vietnam by the French in the late 19th century.

Dragon fruit comes in three distinct cultivated varieties: Red skin with red flesh, red skin with white flesh (currently the most cultivated variety) and yellow skin with white flesh. All three share similar sweet and refreshing flavor characteristics, and nutritional profiles. Dragon fruit is particularly high in vitamin C, fiber, B vitamins and protein. In some circles Dragon fruit has even taken on the heroic title of “superfood.”  

In traditional and alternative medicine treatments, dragon fruit has been used to treat hypertension, and the seeds have been demonstrated to help regulate blood glucose levels, making dragon fruit potentially useful specifically for type 2 diabetes prevention and management.

There is some variation as to the harvest seasons of dragon fruit, though typically it is harvested twice or three times per year at any given farm. If you have the pleasure to find locally-grown dragon fruit, the juicy flavors and healthful benefits are well worth the try, and even the dragon fruits exported from distant lands can be delicious. No doubt, once more people discover its richness, there will be a push to encourage our local growers to start harvesting more pitaya, as it is a fruit that can be grown in a range of warm-to-temperate climates and soils.

Resources and Further Reading

Some possible health benefits of Dragon fruit: 
https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/fruit/health-benefits-of-dragon-fruit.html

An article stressing the possibilities for cultivating Dragon fruit in the United States: 
http://www.miamiherald.com/living/home-garden/article1977019.html

A 2017 meta-analysis study connected Dragon fruit consumption to glycemic control, and showed a possible connection in preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes in prediabetes patients. 
http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0184577

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