Dragon fruit, a climbing vine-like cactus also called pitaya, is a nutritious and unique fruit that deserves a place on your table. Beyond its fun name and unique appearance, dragon fruit is rich in antioxidants, carotene, vitamin C, fiber and a score of minerals, such as iron, magnesium and B vitamins. Native to Central and South America, today's dragon fruit in U.S. markets comes mainly from Southeast Asia.
When to Look for Dragon Fruit
The good news is that dragon fruit is typically sold when it's already ripe, similar to some other fruits like apples or strawberries. The even better news is that you can find dragon fruit year-round in the grocery stores that carry it – the plants produce crops from four to six times a year. The fruit peaks in the summer and early fall, but with optimum storage conditions, around 50 degrees Fahrenheit and with no misting, it stays fresh at the market from 14 to 17 days.
The Taste Test
You'll know that the dragon fruit is ripe if it tastes sweet with a slight melon-like flavor and a tangy, somewhat acidic taste lingering in the background. Some tasters say the flavor of dragon fruit also reminds them of berries, pears, kiwi or watermelon. The fruit has an aroma that may also remind you of melons.
A Ripe Appearance and Feel
As they ripen, the color of dragon fruit, also sometimes called strawberry pear, deepens from a light rose color to the full red color you typically see at the grocery. The scales on the skin begin with a green hue and turn yellow when the fruit is ripe. When dragon fruit is completely ripe, its color will be deep and bright, and it will feel firm to the touch. Dragon fruit comes with either red or white flesh inside with small black, edible seeds that contain heart-healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fats.
Over-Ripe and Damaged Fruit
Once you bring the dragon fruit home, use it within four to five days if you've kept it out in your fruit bowl to enjoy its unique appearance. It will also keep up to two weeks wrapped in plastic in the crisper drawer of your fridge. Peeled, cubed and frozen, the fruit will last indefinitely, but will lose its firm texture and will be tasty only when you use it in smoothies or sauces. If the fruit experiences a chilling injury during transport or in your fridge, you'll see soft spots and browning on the skin and darkening colors on the scales.
Eating Dragon Fruit
Once you cut off the hard ends and peel the dragon fruit, you can eat it raw on its own or in salads. Or, scoop out the flesh after cutting it in half lengthwise, without peeling the fruit, and use it in jams, smoothies or in sauces to serve over ice cream or pound cake. The mild dragon fruit flavor also works well with seafood and can be grilled with a sprinkle of lemon juice, lime juice or chili powder to offset its sweetness.
Susan Lundman began writing about her love of cooking, ingredient choices, menu planning and healthy eating after working for 20 years on children's issues at a nonprofit organization. She has written about food online professionally for ten years on numerous websites, and has provided family and friends with homemade recipes and stories about culinary adventures. Lundman received her M.A. from Stanford University.