What comes to your mind when you picture a dragon fruit? Fuchsia pink scaly skin with artichoke-like scales jutting out, revealing a white, purple or bright red-coloured interior when cut open. When you scoop out a spoonful and bite into its succulent flesh, airy and mellow hints of citrus freshness hit you followed by a sweet and tangy aftertaste, and that unmistakable crunch of tiny black seeds can catch you by a delightful surprise. Eating a dragon fruit for the first time is an experience in itself. Additionally, it has many health benefits too.
Dragon fruit is also known as strawberry pear or pitahaya (pitaya) in a language native to Central America. But did you know that this brightly-hued fruit is actually a cactus. This fruit is raved about for its nutritional properties including fibre, antioxidants and vitamin C, but that aside, its aesthetically pleasing appearance and the fact that it can be consumed for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even with and as cocktails is why it is highly regarded in the food world.
Wish to know more about the health benefits of dragon fruit and some fun ways of using this fruit in our day-to-day meals? Here is everything you need to know.
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All about dragon fruit: Origin, types and legends associated with it
Contrary to popular belief, dragon fruit is not native to South Asia but to Central America and Mexico. It was first introduced on Vietnam soil back in the 19th century and then its popularity reached Thailand, Taiwan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and India. Vietnam is one of the largest exporters of his fruit.
According to Chinese mythology, dragon fruit is the last thing to come out of a slayed dragon’s tail and was supposed to be regarded as a token of valiance.
Dragon fruit, which grows on a Hylocereus cactus, is divided into 11 different varieties depending on its colour and texture. They are:
- Yellow Dragon: This fruit has yellow skin and white flesh.
- Costa Rican Sunset: This variety, as the name suggests, is pink-coloured outside and dark pink from inside with very few seeds.
- Makisupa: This is a slightly dry variety of fruit with a light pink and green outer covering and shocking pink insides.
- David Bowie: This one is small and packed with citrus flavours, like a lemon.
- Harpua: Not too big or small, this one tastes like a melon.
- Natural Mystic: Florida has a monopoly on growing this variety with a pink outer covering and dark pink flesh.
- Purple Haze: If you can’t get a kiwi, try this variety of dragon fruit instead. Tastes just the same.
- Red Jaina or red dragon fruit: Meatiest of all varieties, this one is used more as a base for juices.
- Voodoo Child: Small but packs a punch. This egg-sized breed of dragon fruit has dominant sweet notes like grapes.
Relevance in pop culture: Firmenich names dragon fruit as the flavour of 2023
Dragon fruit has gained a cult status of being a wonder fruit as it looks good and is packed with nutrients, which has impressed the wellness industry too. Popular cafes like Starbucks are constantly further exploring the flavours of this fruit and have a variety of dragon fruit-based drinks including smoothies and lattes. It also makes a frequent appearance in chia-based breakfast bowls and tossed in salads too, for the extra health kick and a dash of freshness.
Acknowledging all this, Firmenich, a privately owned taste and fragrance business, named dragon fruit as the flavour of 2023. Upon collecting the test results of around 18,670 consumers across eight countries, this fruit was named ‘bold’ and ‘exciting’ by most. It looks like we are in for a treat as the industry is bursting with a promise to further optimise the potentiality of this exotic fruit.
Health benefits of dragon fruit
This is a nutrient-rich bomb fruit packed with antioxidants, protein, carbohydrates, fibre, vitamin C, iron and magnesium. Much to the delight of health freaks, it has zero fat and only 60 calories per serving, needless to say, it has many potential health benefits. Dragon fruit should essentially be named ‘dream fruit’ for the same. Here are a few.
Tackles iron deficiency in the blood
Dragon fruit contains eight percent of Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of iron. Iron is a key nutrient needed to maintain the flow of oxygen in the body. It also plays a huge role in digestion as it helps break down food into energy. This wonder fruit is recommended along with other nuts, fish, legumes and meat for those suffering from iron deficiency.
Rich source of fibre and probiotics
Whole foods are always preferred by nutritionists over supplements. Out of 25 grams (for women) and 38 grams (for men) of dietary fibre RDI, a single serving cup of this fruit provides around eight grams of fibre which is nourishing. Aside from maintaining optimum body weight, early studies carried out by the National Library of Medicine suggest that fibre-rich foods may lower the risk of colon cancer.
One of the major benefits of fibre is that it contains probiotics which help greatly in maintaining good gut health. Dragon fruit contains two families of bacteria including lactobacillus bacteria and bifidobacterium. Study shows that these help in curtailing diarrhoea and help maintain a healthy gastrointestinal tract.
Magnesium-rich dragon fruit guards heart and bone health
The human body contains 24 grams of this micronutrient but it plays a key role in around 600 chemical reactions including the creation of DNA, metabolism, muscle contraction and bone formation. A single serving of this fruit packs in 18 per cent RDI of magnesium. It is the only fruit which contains such high numbers of this nutrient. No surprises there.
According to a 2012 study by the National Library Of Medicine, magnesium may help in maintaining cardiovascular health. It also has anti-inflammatory properties according to a study conducted by the National Library of Medicine in 2021.
Want stronger bones? Eat a cup of dragon fruit daily. This study proves that foods rich in magnesium help with osteoporosis prevention.
Consuming dragon fruit can make you fall sick less often
Vitamin C and carotenoids are the two hero ingredients in dragon fruit that guard the white blood cells by preventing damage by free radicals. With a boost in one’s immunity, the body is better suited to tackle infections.
Interesting ways to consume dragon fruit
As mentioned earlier, this tropical fruit is versatile too. If you are intimidated by its flamboyant look and do not know how to go about cutting it, this is a very simple technique. Just place the fruit on a chopping board and use a sharp knife to cut the fruit from the middle. When open, one can easily scoop out the flesh with a spoon just like you do with an avocado.
Following recipe videos using dragon fruits may inspire you to include this fruit in a myriad of dishes beyond the usual fruit bowl or dragon fruit smoothie. Take a look.
Consuming dragon fruit regularly can help your body in many ways. But, as mentioned earlier, it has a high content of fibre which is great for most but a few are not used to taking this nutrient in large quantities and hence might feel discomfort in the tummy. It is always recommended to eat this fruit sparingly in such cases. It is also better to check if you are allergic to this fruit before consuming it. You can consult your nutritionist or physician too if you wish to before consuming dragon fruit.
(Main and featured image credit: Pontus Ohlsson/Unsplash)
This story first appeared in Prestige Malaysia