Move over acai berry. Step back, pomegranate. There’s a new superfruit in town: the dragon fruit.
With its fiercely bright red flesh punctuated by spiky green tendrils, the dragon fruit, a.k.a. the pitaya, looks like it should be falling from outer space, or perhaps swimming through the ocean with a school of blowfish. Instead, this exotic fruit is taking Chicago and the rest of the country by storm.
Visit Next Restaurant and you’ll find dragon fruit sprinkled with rose water on the Tour of Thailand menu. Wander through the aisles of the Lakeview Whole Foods and you can savor a mangosteen/dragon fruit-flavored Bossa Nova Superfruit Antioxidant Juice Beverage. Walk over a few aisles and stock up on Emergen-C’s dragon fruit-flavored, fizzy drink mix. Or, to sample the near-fluorescent cactus fruit, drive a little further north to Fresh Farms in Niles.
This is just the beginning. Skyy Vodka recently began selling vodka infused with dragon fruit, Celestial Seasonings has a dragon fruit melon tea, Lite POM sells a dragon fruit tea and even 7-Eleven has a peach dragon fruit Slurpee. What is it about dragon fruit that’s caused this uproar?
For one thing, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) only recently began allowing the fruit into the country, beginning in 2008 from Vietnam and in 2011 from Mexico. (Prior to that there was concern about pests that could accompany the dragon fruit. Now, it is irradiated at a USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) facility, along with many other imported fruits, to protect against those pests before entering the country).
In addition to increased availability and novelty, the shocking beauty of the fruit, as well as its nutritional value, accounts for its rise in popularity.
“It’s beautiful. It’s very nutritious, and it’s from the cactus family,” said Syeda Farid, a clinical dietitian at Swedish Covenant Hospital. “It also provides fiber, carotene, B vitamins, calcium and especially vitamin C, which is very helpful for the immune system. It has tons of antioxidants that help prevent diseases, like cancers, and it also helps with maintaining high fiber.”
In fact, Farid said dragon fruit works as a natural laxative, and because it’s mild, low in calories and bursting with nutrients, it makes a great snack for someone who is on a restricted diet and even people with diabetes.
There are three varieties of dragon fruit: red, white and yellow. Each has tiny black seeds inside (think kiwi), which are edible and account for its high fiber content. It’s mild in flavor, reminiscent of a melon combined with a kiwi.
Farid said that when selecting a piece of dragon fruit, you should choose one that is rich in color and full bodied, without any moldy spots. Without washing it, simply store it in your refrigerator for up to five days and serve it chilled. When you’re ready to eat it, cut it in half and scoop out the pulp. Farid suggests serving it in fruit salad or in other fruit-filled concoctions. With fruit salads, she suggests squirting it with fresh lemon or lime to draw out the flavor.
“You can easily incorporate it in your fruit salad and smoothies. Try it with juices and ice creams,” she said. “It enhances the other fruit you combine it with, especially strawberries, pears and mangos.”
Have you tried dragon fruit? Do you have a recipe incorporating dragon fruit? Please share in the comments section below!