What Is Dragon Fruit and Does It Have Health Benefits? Dragon fruit is a tropical fruit that has become increasingly popular in recent years. Though people primarily enjoy it for its unique look and taste, evidence suggests it may provide health benefits as well. This article takes a look at dragon fruit, including its nutrition, benefits, and how to eat it. What Is Dragon Fruit? Dragon fruit grows on the Hylocereus cactus, also known as the Honolulu queen, whose flowers only open at night. The plant is native to southern Mexico and Central America. Today, it is grown all over the world. It goes by many names, including pitaya, pitahaya, and strawberry pear. The two most common types have bright red skin with green scales that resemble a dragon — hence the name. The most widely available variety has white pulp with black seeds, though a less common type with red pulp and black seeds exists as well. Another variety — referred to as yellow dragon fruit — has yellow skin and white pulp with black seeds. Dragon fruit may look exotic, but its flavors are similar to other fruits. Its taste has been described as a slightly sweet cross between a kiwi and a pear.
Dragon Fruit Plant Care: Guide On How to Grow Dragon Fruit Dragon fruit is an exotic cactus that is found in Asia, Mexico, and parts of South America. It is not grown in North America, which is why the plant is not as common in this region. Dragon fruit can be planted as ornamental plants, but they do bare delicious fruit that is rather tasty. In fact, it is often used in jams, ice cream, fruit juice, and wine. Let’s start by becoming more familiar with the different types of dragon fruit, then we will jump right into how to grow the plant. The blooms of this plant are unique; in fact, they are one of the largest flowers in the world. The reason that they are so unique is not their size; it is the fact that the blooms only open for one night, and the scents that you will experience on that night are surreal and exotically fruity. The Different Types of Dragon FruitDragon fruit or pitayas are extremely unique plants that come in three different types that you can enjoy. They are also called strawberry pears because of the bright red features of the fruit. These plants are also known by other names as well. Indonesia buah naga, Thanh long, Thai kaeo mangkon, nanettika fruit, Belle of the Night, Cactus fruit, Kaktus madu, and Night blooming Cereus are among a few of the most common names. Regardless of the type of dragon fruit that you are growing the fruit will be green until it is ripe. At that time, it will either be bright yellow in coloration or red. The inside pulp of each piece of fruit will be filled will small seeds that look similar to those that can be found in a kiwi fruit. The three types of dragon fruit are:
Hylocereus Megalanthus – This type of dragon fruit has a white fruit flesh and a yellow shell. The shell of this variation is a bit thornier than the rest of the variations, so it is rarer to see in a garden.
Hylocereus Undatus – This is a variation that has the same white flesh, but the exterior of this fruit is red in color.
Hylocereus Costaricensis – This type of fruit is red in coloration on both the shell and in the flesh. The flesh is often a deep red coloration that looks almost unnatural or blood–like.
How to Grow Dragon Fruit Unlike most cactus plants, this one is a climbing plant that needs a bit of support to grow properly. It is a sub tropical plant that needs a lot of heat and humidity, so here is a breakdown of the information that you will need to nurture and grow dragon fruit.
Soil Requirements – This plant is able to grow in any soil that is well draining, but it prefers to grow in soil that is slightly acidic with a pH level that is between six and seven. Sandy soil is the best option for this plant; if it is not available, just ensure that it is well draining soil.
Fertilizer – To ensure that the dragon fruit is growing properly, give it some fertilizer every month during the active growing season. During the cold winter months, you will want to stop feeding your plant for a few months.
Water – Because this plant is a cactus plant, it is important to make sure that you are watering it properly. Only water the plant when the top of the soil is dry to the touch, and do not allow the plant to sit in water. The soil needs to be moist, not soaked.
Light Requirements – The base of the plant can see a little shade, but the tips of the plant require full sun to ensure that the plant blooms properly. If too much shade is given to the plant, the fruit will not do well.
Temperature Requirements – Dragon fruit will not grow in cold climates, so make sure that the temperature is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent damage from occurring to the plant. For optimal growth, the temperature needs to be between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
How to Grow Dragon Fruit in Pots Since dragon fruit does not like to grow in colder climates, having it planted in a pot can be a great idea. It allows you to easily move the plant indoors when the weather starts getting cold. Large pots are best; typically they should be at least 15 gallons. The pots also need to be well-draining so that the water does not sit in the base of the pot and cause root rot to occur.
Nutrition Facts Dragon fruit contains small amounts of several nutrients. It’s also a decent source of iron, magnesium, and fiber. Here are the nutrition facts for a serving of 3.5 ounces, or 100 grams
Protein: 1.2 grams
Fat: 0 grams
Carbs: 13 grams
Fiber: 3 grams
Vitamin C: 3% of the RDI
Iron: 4% of the RDI
Magnesium: 10% of the RDI
Given the high amount of fiber and magnesium, as well as the extremely low calorie content, dragon fruit can be considered a highly nutrient-dense fruit Provides Several Antioxidants Dragon fruit contains several types of antioxidants. These are compounds that protect your cells from unstable molecules called free radicals, which are linked to chronic diseases and aging. These are some of the main antioxidants contained in dragon fruit pulp.
Betalains: Found in the pulp of red dragon fruit, these deep red pigments have been shown to protect “bad” LDL cholesterol from becoming oxidized or damaged.
Hydroxycinnamates: This group of compounds has demonstrated anticancer activity in test-tube and animal studies.
Flavonoids: This large, diverse group of antioxidants is linked to better brain health and a reduced risk of heart disease.
One study compared the antioxidant properties of 17 tropical fruits and berries. While dragon fruit's antioxidant capacity was not especially high, it was found to be best at protecting certain fatty acids from free radical damage. Potential Health Benefits Animal studies suggest that dragon fruit may provide various health benefits. Many of these are likely due to its fiber and antioxidant content. Both red and white varieties of dragon fruit have been shown to reduce insulin resistance and fatty liver in obese mice. In one study, mice on a high-fat diet who received an extract of the fruit gained less weight and had reductions in liver fat, insulin resistance, and inflammation, which were attributed in part to beneficial changes in gut bacteria. Dragon fruit contains prebiotic fiber that promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut — potentially improving metabolic health. Although this fruit may improve certain features of metabolic syndrome — a condition associated with type 2 diabetes — not all effects may be favorable. In a study in mice on a high-fat, high-carb diet, the group that received dragon fruit juice had better blood sugar responses and reductions in some liver enzyme markers, while another liver enzyme marker significantly increased. In another study, rats with diabetes treated with an extract from the fruit had a 35% reduction in malondialdehyde, a marker of free-radical damage. They also had less arterial stiffness, compared to the control group. Study results on the effects of dragon fruit on type 2 diabetes in people are inconsistent, and more research is needed to confirm these beneficial effects.
How to Eat It Though it may look intimidating, dragon fruit is very easy to eat. Here's how to eat dragon fruit:
Select a ripe fruit with bright red, evenly colored skin that gives slightly when squeezed.
Use a sharp knife and cut straight through the fruit, slicing it in half.
You can use a spoon to eat the fruit out of the skin or peel the skin off and slice the pulp into small pieces. Ideas for serving dragon fruit:
Simply slice it up and eat it as is.
Chop it into small pieces and top with Greek yogurt and chopped nuts.