Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dragon fruit for dinner...

I was at the Asian market today when I ran into these... Dragon Fruit, which is actually the fruit of the cactus Hylocereus undatus.

Now, this may be a rather exotic fruit that is only available at Asian markets... but the fact is that the plant is very common... if you have one of them grafted cactus that you get at Wal-Mart, there's about a 99% chance that you have one of these... They are the most common grafting stock around. They're not the brightly colored top... there the three ribbed green trunk that the pink or yellow or wierd colored cactus is attached to.

As a fruit, the plant is a tropical cactus, that may grow attached to the ground or as an epiphyte up in tree-tops. And they may get rather huge, some reports as a mass of green stems that meander through the trees up to 40 feet. For commercial fruit production, they are grown in Vietnam, Indonesia and are not uncommon throughout most of South America. I even found a few reports on the web about production in Israel. As to where it's from... that's confusing. Nobody seems entirely sure... they've been grown as an edible and ornamental for so long, that it's just not clear where they origonally hailed from, but the most common site is Southern areas of Mexico or Northern parts of South America.

I buy about one of these a year... They taste to me, after they've made it across the ocean from Vietnam, something like a greenish pear. I'm pretty sure the lack of extreme flavor is because they are picked as soon as they show signs of ripening to be shipped out. My reading also tells me that if they are left on the plant for about a week after ripening, they'll develop more sugars and become much more flavorful.

Last year, I ate about half of one, and the rest I extracted the seeds and planted them. They sprouted within a week, and were well on there way when we had one of our hail storms and I was too busy saving my other cactus to notice that the pot they were in was shattered and by the time I thought to check them it was just too late. I'll probably try again with this one. Not that I'll ever have a real chance of getting fruit, the plant has to be on the huge size to begin blooming and producing, aproximately 10 years from seed. I could get a jumpstart if I bought one of those grafted cactus, beheaded it and let the stock grow new branches of it's own. But even then... we are talking a tropical to semi-tropical plant. I understand they can take an occasional frost, but any prolonged cold will kill it. In certain parts of Florida, they can often be seen growing up palm trees, blooming their fool heads off, producing up to six flushes of blooms a year of night-blooming huge white flowers. The fruits average 12 to 14 ounces each. I bought this one for 2.99 a pound... and that's cheap for them.

Common Names
English: Red Pitaya, Red Pitahaya, Night blooming Cereus, Strawberry Pear, Dragonfruit, Belle of the Night, Conderella Plant
French: cierge-lézard, poire de chardon
German: Distelbirne,Drachenfrucht
Hawaiian: panini-o-ka-puna-hou ("Punahou cactus") - a famous specimen grew at Punahou School
Portoguese: cato-barse, cardo-ananaz
Spanish: pitahaya roja (Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela); flor de caliz, pitajava (Puerto Rico); junco, junco tapatio, pitahaya orejona, reina de la noche, tasajo (Mexico)
Swedish: skogskaktus, röd pitahaya
Vietnamese: thanh long


  1. What great information! I didn't realize dragon fruit came from teh night blooming cerous. Cool. I will have to try eating one of these fruits! They are very alluring!

  2. You don't mention what it tastes like. Any idea? How do you use it?

  3. Julie - There are about 10 different plants called "Night Blooming Cereus" I'm pretty sure all of them have edible fruits,

    Aiyana - I mentioned that to me they taste like a greenish pear. Some people insist there's a citrus undertaste. Fully ripened on the vine, most people report a taste of kiwi... you just chill the fruit, cut it in half and scoop it out with a spoon, like a melon of some sort.

  4. Hmmm,

    I never knew that it grew on the cheap stock you find in the big box garden stores.