Dragon Fruit (Pitahaya)

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On this snowy, snowy day, a photo of a Costa Rican Red Dragon Fruit (Hylocereus costaricensis) caught my eye and rapt attention. Noticing that it is called pitaya or pitahaya (a word I had heard in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, but had never associated with a fruit) I did a little research and discovered—pardon my ignorance—that it is the same as the dragon fruit (once again, a fruit about which I had no information). Let me ask: am I the only Puerto Rican that has never tasted a pitahaya? This is a call to anyone with Caribbean and Central and South American familiarity to add your comments here about your own experience and knowledge of the pitahaya. What is it called in your neck of the woods? What is it used for besides a refreshing snack?

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Here is some of the information I found:

The name ‘pitahaya’ or ‘pitaya’ is, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, derived from the Spanish rendition of Haitian Creole. [As my co-blogger, indicates, it is also referred to as pitihaya in southern Puerto Rico (Petit ____ ? Unfortunately, our friends have not been able to confirm the Haitian Creole origin of the word. Standing by for more information.)]

Pitaya (as it is more often called) or dragon fruit is a tropical cactus from Central and Northern South America. There are three varieties: white-fleshed pitaya (pitaya blanca or Hylocereus undatus, which is the most commonly seen “dragon fruit”; red-fleshed pitaya (pitaya roja or Hylocereus costaricensis or Hylocereus polyrhizus; see the photo above), and the yellow pitaya (pitaya amarilla or Hylocereus megalanthus).

It is commercially grown in North, Central, and South America—from Mexico and Texas to Peru and Argentina. Vietnam is also a big commercial producer of Pitaya since it was introduced by the French 100 years ago. It is also commercially cultivated in Australia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Israel, and Sri Lanka. According to Cook Mix Mingle, there are two different species that are available in the U.S.—specifically Florida, from June through November (one with white flesh and another with pink).

As I found out from a study led by Dr. Habil (University of Costa Rica, San José, Costa Rica) and Dr. Reinhold Carle (Hohenheim University, Stuttgart, Germany), published as “Pitaya Fruit – A Promising Option for Local Processors in Central-America,” approximately 3000 tons of pitaya are annually produced from northern Costa Rica to Nicaragua. “The red-skinned and red-fleshed genotypes are commonly consumed as fresh fruit or juice. Belonging to the Cactaceae family with their typical Crassulacean acid metabolism, pitaya cultivation is feasible in arid areas including high atmospheric sulphur concentrations. Hence, the crop is grown mostly on the volcanic hillsides of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, areas suffering from very high poverty. Offering a developmental perspective for agriculture and processing industry, this crop has high social importance in these regions.

Since the plant consists of ribbed stems which climb on any natural or artificial support, cultivation is mostly carried out best with dead or living supports. The fruit genotypes are distinguished by scales, shape, size and colour. The latter is caused by betalains, water-soluble nitrogen-containing pigments, divided into two mayor structural groups comprising red-purple betacyanins and yellow betaxanthins.” In other words, besides being consumed as a tasty fruit, the pitaya is also valued as food colorant.

The floor is open to our readers’ enlightening comments!

For general information, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitaya and http://www.cookmixmingle.com/food-and-recipes/whats-dragon-fruit-taste-like/

See scientific abstract at https://troz.uni-hohenheim.de/uploads/media/Pitaya_fruit.pdf

Also see http://www.projectnoah.org/spottings/37519041

Images above from http://boingboing.net/2010/01/29/taste-test-dragon-fr.html and http://www.cookmixmingle.com/food-and-recipes/whats-dragon-fruit-taste-like/

3 thoughts on “Dragon Fruit (Pitahaya)

  1. As bright and colorful as it looks, it’s surprisingly bland. Like a kiwi without any sweetness. Actually had it first in Hatillo last time I was in PR, with that whole Acai bowl craze.

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