Pitaya, Pitahaya, Strawberry Pear, Thang Loy, Hylocereus undatus
California, Mexico, South America, Vietnam, Israel
Also known as the Pitaya, the Dragon Fruit is a stunningly beautiful fruit with an intense colour and shape, magnificent flowers and a delicious taste. Round, often red colored fruit with prominent scales. The thin rind encloses the large mass of sweetly flavored white or red pulp and small black seeds. Some varieties are pinkish or yellow. Native to Mexico and Central and South America, these vine-like epiphytic cacti are also cultivated in Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia. They are also found in Taiwan and Israel.
The red fleshed varieties contain lycopene which is a natural antioxidant known to fight cancer, heart disease, and lower blood pressure. Despite the health benefits and its spectacular appearance, the fruit has gone virtually unnoticed for centuries. Today it is the leading fruit export of Vietnam.
Fruit flesh is delicious to eat fresh and chilled, and is lovely with lemon or lime juice or with ice cream. Use pulp in jams or as a base for drinks. The colour and shape of the fruit make them a most attractive garnish. Its striking appearance would add panache to any dish and you could add the fruit to almost any other fruit combination without worrying about upsetting the balance of flavours.
The sensation surrounding this fabulous fruit can be attributed to a legend created by ingenious Asian marketers. According to the legend the fruit was created thousands of years ago by fire breathing dragons. During a battle when the dragon would breathe fire the last thing to come out would be the fruit. After the dragon is slain the fruit is collected and presented to the Emperor as a coveted treasure and indication of victory. The soldiers would then butcher the dragon and eat the flesh. It was believed that those who feasted on the flesh would be endowed with the strength and ferocity of the dragon and that they too would be coveted by the Emperor.
It is written that the dragon's flame originates deep within its body near the base of its tail. The meat from this part of the dragon was the most desirable and most sought after portion. Only the officers of each division would be privy to this cut of meat. The ancient Chinese called this cut the "jaina," which translates literally to "the sweetest and best tasting." The jaina was treasured by all who were privileged enough to taste it, and it is believed that man's thirst for the jaina is what led to the destruction and eventual extinction of all of the dragons.