Dragon Fruit, also known as Pitaya, is the fruit from a variety of cactus species, primarily from the genus Hylocereus. They are similar to the prickly pear cactus fruits, often called “tunas.” Native to Mexico, Central and South America, they are now cultivated extensively in Asia, primarily in Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. They are also grown in Hawaii, Israel, Okinawa, Southern China and Northern Australia. The Hylocereus genus produces beautiful, fragrant white flowers, often called Queen of the Night or Moon Flower, because they bloom at night.
The fruit’s skin is leathery with some attached leaves. It can be pink, red or yellow in color. Sweet pitayas have creamy flesh and a delicate fragrance. The Costa Rican variety has red flesh. There are sesame-sized, black, crunchy edible seeds inside the fruit. The sour pitaya is more juicy, stronger tasting and refreshing, and has been an important component in the diet of indigenous people in the Sonoran desert and other desert regions of Latin America.
The fruits have five to six growing cycles a year, and can grow to over two pounds. Under cultivation in Vietnam, some farms have produced up to 30 tons per hectare (2.5 acres).
Dragon Fruit is low in calories and rich in fiber, minerals and antioxidants, and the seeds are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids. It is used in ethno-medicine to help with respiratory ailments and for controlling blood sugar.