Dragon Fruit

What Is Dragon Fruit?

Dragon fruit is a food that grows on a climbing cactus called hylocereus, which you'll find in tropical regions around the world. The plant’s name comes from the Greek word "hyle," which means "woody," and the Latin word "cereus," which means "waxen." 

On the outside, the fruit has the appearance of 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 stuff inside dotted with black seeds that are OK to eat.

This fruit comes in red- and yellow-skinned varieties. The cactus originally grew in southern Mexico and South and Central America. The French brought it to Southeast Asia in the early 19th century.

Central Americans call it "pitaya." In Asia, it's a "strawberry pear." Today, you can buy dragon fruit throughout the U.S.

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 Nutrition

In one 6-ounce serving of dragon fruit cubes, you'll get:

  • Calories: 102
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 22 grams
  • Fiber: 5 grams
  • Sugars: 13 grams

You'll also get these vitamins and minerals:

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Dragon Fruit Health Benefits

Dragon fruit has many potential health benefits, including:

  • It’s rich in antioxidants like flavonoids, phenolic acid, and betacyanin. These natural substances protect your cells from damage by free radicals -- molecules that can lead to diseases like cancer and premature aging.
  • It’s naturally fat-free and high in fiber. It makes for a good snack because it can help keep you full for longer between meals.
  • It may help lower your blood sugar. Researchers say this might be partly because it replaces damaged cells in your pancreas that make insulin, the hormone that helps your body break down sugar. But the studies were done on mice, not people. It's unclear just how much dragon fruit you'd have to eat to get these benefits.
  • It contains prebiotics, which are foods 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 encourages the growth of the probiotics lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. In your gut, these and other helpful bacteria can kill disease-causing viruses and bacteria. They also help digest food.
  • It can strengthen your immune system. Dragon fruit is high in vitamin C and other antioxidants, which are good for your immune system.
  • It can boost your iron levels. Iron is important for moving oxygen through your body and giving you energy, and dragon fruit has iron. And the vitamin C in dragon fruit helps your body take in and use the iron.

Dragon Fruit Health Risks

Dragon fruit is generally safe to eat, although 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.

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How to Prepare Dragon Fruit

Before you buy dragon fruit, squeeze it gently. It should give a little bit without feeling too soft or mushy. Avoid fruit that has bruises or dry leaves -- signs that it's overripe. If it feels hard when you press on it, let it ripen on the counter for a few days before eating.

To prepare the fruit, cut it into quarters. Either peel away the skin or remove the flesh with a spoon, ice cream scoop, or melon baller. Don't eat the skin.

How to Eat Dragon Fruit

You can eat dragon fruit in a few ways. Toss it into a fruit salad along with other tropical fruits like pineapple and mango. Cut it into a salsa. Churn it into ice cream. Squeeze it into juice or water. Use it as a topping for Greek yogurt. Or freeze it and blend it into a smoothie.

How to Store Dragon Fruit

Store any leftover dragon fruit in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to 5 days. Or freeze it for up to 3 months.

Here are more ways to eat dragon fruit

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on June 24, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

American Culinary Federation Education Foundation: "All About Dragon Fruit."

Chulalongkorn Medical Journal: "Pseudohematuria due to red dragon fruit ingestion."

DK: The Illustrated Cook's Book of Ingredients.

Food Chemistry: "Oligosaccharides of pitaya (dragon fruit) flesh and their prebiotic properties."

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Antioxidants: In Depth." "Probiotics: In Depth."

National Library Board Singapore: "Dragon fruit."

National Institutes of Health: “Iron”

Cleveland Clinic: “All About Dragon Fruit: 3 Health Benefits + How to Eat It.”

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