What Are the Benefits of Dragon Fruit?

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on June 04, 2024
8 min read

Dragon fruit is a tasty tropical fruit that grows on a climbing cactus called hylocereus. The plant’s name comes from the Greek word "hyle," which means woody, and the Latin word "cereus," which means waxen.

The cactus originally grew in southern Mexico and South and Central America. The French brought it to Southeast Asia in the early 19th century. Today, you can buy dragon fruit throughout the U.S., but domestic varieties are grown only in Florida, California, and Hawaii.

On the outside, the fruit looks like a hot pink or yellow bulb with spike-like green leaves shooting up like flames around it. Cut it open, and you'll find fleshy white, pink, red, or purple pulp dotted with black seeds that are good to eat. It looks something like the inside of a kiwi fruit.

Central Americans call dragon fruit pitaya. In some parts of Asia, it's a strawberry pear, while in India, it's called Kamalam, after the Sanskrit name for lotus.

What does dragon fruit taste like?

Dragon fruit is juicy with a slightly sweet taste that some describe as a cross between a kiwi, a pear, and a watermelon. The seeds have a nutty flavor.

Dragon fruit comes in a variety of colors. The major species have a red or pink peel or, less commonly, a yellow peel. The pulp inside can be red or white.

White dragon fruit

The best known dragon fruit varieties typically have pink skin and white flesh. They are not as sweet as some other types. You might find them sold as Alice, Cosmic Charlie, or Guyute varieties. Vietnam is a top producer of dragon fruit with white pulp.

Red dragon fruit

Bigger, sweeter fruits with red or pink pulp go by names including Red Jaina and Bloody Mary. Nicaragua and Ecuador are major producers of these types.

Yellow dragon fruit

Dragon fruits with yellow skins have white pulp inside and are the sweetest of all varieties. But they are also the hardest to find. They often come from Ecuador or elsewhere in Central or South America.

Other dragon fruit varieties

Dragon fruit can come in additional color combinations. For example, the American Beauty variety has pink skin with purple flesh. This variety came to growers in Florida and California by way of Guatemala.

In a 1-cup serving of dragon fruit cubes, you'll get:

  • Calories: 103
  • Fat: 0.2 gram
  • Protein: 0.6 gram
  • Carbohydrates: 27 grams
  • Fiber: 6 grams
  • Sugars: 18 grams

Dragon fruit vitamins and minerals

You'll also get:

Dragon fruit has many potential health benefits, though studies are mostly in early stages. The fruit may:

Help prevent oxidative damage. It’s rich in antioxidants such as flavonoids, phenolic acid, and betacyanin. These natural substances protect your cells from damage by free radicals — molecules that can lead to diseases such as cancer and premature aging.

Help with weight management. It’s naturally high in fiber and low in calories and, like other fruits, it contains a lot of water. High-fiber foods make good snacks because they can help keep you full for longer between meals.

Ease constipation. Dragon fruit is an excellent source of fiber, which can soften stools and help you poop. Like some other fruits, it can work as a mild laxative.

Help lower blood sugar. Some studies in animals have suggested substances in dragon fruit might help lower blood sugar by regenerating damaged cells in the pancreas, which makes insulin, the hormone that helps your body manage blood sugar. A few small studies done in people with diabetes have been inconclusive.

Improve gut health. It contains prebiotics, which are fibers that feed the healthy bacteria called probiotics in your gut. Having more prebiotics in your system can improve the balance of good to bad bacteria in your intestines. Specifically, dragon fruit boosts the growth of the probiotics lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. In your gut, these and other helpful bacteria can help you fight off disease-causing viruses and bacteria. They also help digest food.

Strengthen your immune system. In addition to prebiotics, which can help your immune system, dragon fruit is high in vitamin C and other antioxidants, which also can help you maintain healthy immunity.

Lower inflammation. Lab studies suggest that compounds in the pulp and peel of dragon fruit might lower inflammation, which plays a role in many diseases.

Boost iron levels and increase iron absorption. Iron is important for moving oxygen through your body and giving you energy, and dragon fruit has some iron (less than 1 gram of the daily 8-27 grams recommended for adults). The vitamin C in dragon fruit helps your body take in and use the iron you get from the fruit and the rest of your diet.

Improve skin health. A diet rich in vegetables and fruits, such as dragon fruit, is associated with healthier skin. One big factor may be vitamin C, which is important in making collagen, the protein that helps keep your skin firm. Vitamin C also helps your skin repair itself when you get a cut or other wound. The antioxidant activity of vitamin C might also help limit sun damage to your skin, though human studies haven't proved that.

Some studies in animals have included juices or extracts made from dragon fruit and have found possible health benefits from antioxidants and other compounds in those liquids.

But keep in mind that dragon fruit juices you buy at the store won't be like the stuff given to lab rats. Dragon fruit juice is often combined with other juices and ingredients, including sugar, changing its nutritional value.

What if you make your own dragon fruit juice or find a 100% fruit juice containing dragon fruit? Nutrition experts say you'd still do better with whole fruit, which has more fiber and is less likely to cause blood sugar spikes.

Dragon fruit is generally safe to eat, but studies have reported isolated allergic reactions. Symptoms include swelling of the tongue, hives, and vomiting. This type of reaction seems to be very rare.

If you eat enough red dragon fruit, it might turn your pee pink or red. This symptom looks more alarming than it actually is. The same thing can happen if you eat a lot of beets. Your pee should turn back to its normal color once the fruit is out of your system.

One more thing to keep in mind: dragon fruit is high in fiber, so if you're not used to a lot of fiber and you eat a lot of it, you could get some digestive upset.

Dragon fruit can be found in many regular grocery stores, as well as specialty stores and farmers' markets, especially when the fruit is in season (June through September for most types). Some growers also sell the fruit online.

Dragon fruit price

In the U.S., it's not unusual for a single dragon fruit, which can be about the size of a baseball, to cost about $5. While that's more than your average apple or orange, keep in mind that most dragon fruit is imported, much of it from Vietnam, increasing transportation costs. Prices also reflect the fact that each fruit has to be picked from a cactus that grows just a few fruits at a time, limiting supplies.

How to know if a dragon fruit is ripe

If your dragon fruit has green skin, it's not ripe. It's ready to eat when the skin has brightened to red or yellow, depending on the type. It should be slightly soft, but not mushy. The fruit doesn't ripen much after harvesting, so you should buy ripe or nearly ripe fruit if you can.

If you're new to dragon fruit, you might not know what to do with it. For most uses, you'll want to get past the prickly peel to the good stuff inside.

How to cut dragon fruit

First, wash the outside, to avoid getting dirt or pesticides on your knife and in the fruit. To get to the pulp, you can cut the fruit into halves or quarters, then peel away the skin or remove the flesh with a spoon, ice cream scoop, or melon baller. You can cut large pieces into smaller cubes or other shapes. Or you can cut slices from the whole fruit and either cut round pieces away from the peel or cut the rounds in half, for half-moon slices.

How to store dragon fruit

You can leave whole fruit on the counter for a few days. To slow ripening and keep it longer, you can put it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Once you've cut it, the pieces should go in the fridge.

You can eat fresh-cut dragon fruit straight up, like any other fruit. Or you can: 

  • Toss it into a fruit salad along with other tropical fruits such as pineapple and mango.
  • Cut it into a salsa.
  • Churn it into ice cream.
  • Use it as a topping for Greek yogurt.
  • Freeze it and blend it into a smoothie.

Is dragon fruit peel edible?

Yes, it's edible and studies suggest it contains substances with potential antioxidant, prebiotic, and anti-inflammatory effects. Deep-fried dragon peel is a popular dish in Indonesia and dragon peel tea is made in China. However, the raw peel tastes bitter and can be covered in a lot of pesticides. No matter how you use your dragon fruit, be sure to wash the peel thoroughly.

Dragon fruit juice

You can find many recipes for dragon fruit juice, often combined with lemons and sugar for a bright twist on lemonade, or with other fruits, ranging from apples and pears to mangos and kiwis. It's also used in margaritas, mojitos, and other cocktails.

Dragon fruit syrup

You can also buy or make dragon fruit syrup to use in drinks, or as a topping for ice cream, yogurt, and other foods.

Dragon fruit powder

These products are another way to add the color and taste of dragon fruit to drinks, desserts, and other foods. The powder is also sold as a nutritional supplement. But keep in mind that supplements sold in the U.S. do not undergo FDA review for safety and effectiveness, so any benefits or risks are unclear.