This week’s WTFood: Pitaya, commonly known as Dragon Fruit or Strawberry Pear. The majority of people I know in the U.S. have only ever encountered this in the form of a beverage (most notably Glaceau Vitamin-Water ‘Power-C’), but I’ve found dried slices in my local Trader Joe’s, and it’s actually quite popular around the world. Native to Mexico, Central, and South America, the Pitaya is a fruit of a vine in the Hylocereus species of cactus (a favorite as it blooms large fragrant white blossoms, but only at night). It’s been cultivated as both a crop and ornamental plant in many regions, most notably Southern Asia, but also Israel, Australia, and a number of Pacific Islands.
There are a few varieties of this fruit, but the most common (and the one I found in a local Asian market) is the Red Pitaya, pictured below:
Picking and preparing a Dragon Fruit is pretty simple (it’s actually a lot like a kiwi). Look for bright, even-colored skin. Avoid any fruit that is very blotchy or has dead, brown leaves. If you can, give the fruit a slight squeeze – it should give a little, but not be mushy. If the fruit is very firm, it’s not ripe (takes a few days).
Next step, preparation! I gave mine a rise and a slight scrubbing, just because pesticides are a real possibility (but the skin is thick enough that you don’t really have to worry about it penetrating to the fruit). Then cut the fruit length-wise, splitting it in two (pictured above) and exposing that unique seed-speckled flesh (if the flesh is red, you’ve found a Costa Rican Pitaya!).
Slide a spoon between the flesh and the skin to separate them. It’s hard to judge the curve of the fruit, so I – very gently – made a cut half way horizontally through the fruit and took each half out separately. Once finished, inspect the flesh for any pink spots and remove them (you don’t want to eat the skin).
You can do almost anything from this point. Juice is a really popular variation, and as I mentioned before, I’ve had it dried (which really concentrates the flavor). This time around, I simply cubed the flesh and served it in the hollowed skin, but given the unique appearance, Dragon Fruit could provide great contrast in a fruit salad or as a thematic element during your next role-playing session (It’s named Dragon Fruit – you had to see that coming).
So on to the important part: how does it taste?
First, just like with the preparation, the texture is similar to that of a kiwi: firm, with the seeds adding a nice crunch (themselves a good source of essential fats, but you have to bite them otherwise they won’t be digested). The flavor is subtly sweet and floral, but with a slight tannin-like finish. I served samples to two of my roommates and both enjoyed it. It’s hard to make a comparison. The closest I can come to is apple skins, but that doesn’t really do it justice. All in all, Dragon Fruit is a great seasonal find and could really puzzle any guests you serve it to!