This is the first of a series on the fruits of Colombia. This week we will discuss the Pitaya or Dragon Fruit (Pitahaya). One of the joys of living in this biodiverse countries is the wide range of fruits available. Many of them have been unknown in other parts of the world but as Proexport Colombia and the fruit growers of this country flex their exportation ”muscles” this is quickly changing.
The pitaya is a member of the cactus family – genus Hylocereus, which originally was native to Mexico. From there it made its way to Central America and eventually to other parts of the world. This plant either grows from the ground or climbs onto trees, and can easily reach up to 2o feet high when full grown. The cactus matures within a year and starts to bear fruit about the same time , with an average of 5–6 harvest cycles every year.
There are two varities of pitaya – the red and the yellow. The red is more common in Mexico, Nicaragua and Vietnam, where the yellow is more common in other parts of Central and South America. There are two varieties of pitaya: the yellow and red. The yellow grows in tropical areas and elevation of Central America and South America. The red grows in Mexico, Nicaragua, and especially in Vietnam. The pitaya amarilla – yellow pitaya – Hylocereus megalanthus, is most common in Colombia.
When the fruit is cut open the flesh of the yellow pitaya is white with black crunchy seeds. It is sometimes likened to a kiwi because of a mild taste very similar to sugar water. The seeds are eaten with the fruit and have a nutty flavour if chewed. They are rich in lipds, especially linoleic acid, and these lipids help improve ”intestinal transit”.
The pitaya has numerous medicinal properties. One serving contains 15 percent of the necessary daily Vitamin C, 10 percent for potassium, 8 percent for iron, and 1 percent for calcium, plus it contains phosphorus and fiber. There has been research to demonstrate that perhaps it may aid in ”preventing certain cancers, jumpstart weight loss, control blood glucose level for diabetes, reduce memory loss, and facilitates faster healing process of wounds” due to its antibacterial and antifungal properties. Additionally it is purported that this fruit helps to reduce uric acid blood levels in the blood and therefore aids in the prevention of gout.
The dragon fruit can be made into juice or wine or used to flavour other beverages. Even the flowers can be eaten or steeped to use in a tissane preparation.
It is important to note, that even though we are listing supposed medicinal properties, do not overuse any fruit. Additionally it is important to consult with your physician and or nutritionist as to how you can integrate them into your diet.