Have you ever heard of the fruit called pitaya? This superfruit is indigineous to parts of Asia, as well as Central and South America, but these days you can buy it all over the world. If you can’t find pitaya on your next trip to the supermarket, try looking for it under its other name– dragon fruit.
In terms of flavor, ripe, fresh pitaya is like a combination of watermelon and pear– light, just sweet enough, and refreshing. Compared to the flashy exterior of the fruit, the taste is surprisingly gentle.
What Does Pitaya Look Like?
On the outside, pitaya (or dragon fruit) is incredibly vibrant. The skin of a pitaya is a bright, fuschia pink, and the whole fruit has bright green spike-like mounds protruding from it. The color contrast between the pink and the green is quite striking, and the fruit looks incredibly exotic and eye-catching.
Each fruit is slightly oblong in shape, resembling a plump, spiky oval. On average, the pitayas you find at the grocery store will be between 10-12 centimeters long and will weigh between 8-10 ounces. This is fairly similar to the size of a large apple or a pomegranate, if you need some context.
In addition to the bright pink pitaya, you might also come across the yellow variety of the same fruit. This yellow is similar to that of a ripe banana and is still marked with the characteristic green spikes around the skin of the fruit.
Most of the time, the interior of pitaya that you find at the store will be white with small black seeds. The seeds are similar to those of a kiwi, but are distributed throughout the flesh of the fruit, rather than just in the center like a kiwi. A pitaya has hundreds of tiny seeds throughout the flesh, and when you bite into the flesh of a pitaya you will enjoy a pleasant crunching sensation. This again is very similar to the texture of a kiwi.
The other kind of pitaya you might encounter has dark fuschia flesh on the inside. These are called red dragon fruit or red pitaya. The outside looks very similar to the outside of a white pitaya, but the green pikes are less green and vibrant than a white pitaya.
Is Pitaya Sweet or Sour?
Pitaya, or dragon fruit, is such a vibrantly colored fruit that many people look at one and think “what is the pitaya fruit taste? Is it sweet, or is it sour?” In fact, the flavor is so mild compared to the vibrancy of the fruit that many people are quite surprised when they first taste it. In terms of whether pitaya is sweet or sour, the answer is that the fruit is mild, sweet, and vaguely tropical in flavor. Pitaya is not a sour fruit at all, and is quite delicious.
Is Pitaya Good for You?
When people think about fruits and vegetables, they often automatically wonder what the health benefits of a certain food are. Fruits and veggies are packed with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that help our bodies stay healthy and strong. Despite this, only 1 in 10 adults gets enough fruits and veggies per day– at least according to the CDC. Per their guidelines, adults should be trying to eat 1.5 to 2 cups of fruits per day and 2 to 3 cups of veggies.
If you’re looking to add more fruits to your diet, pitaya is a great fruit to eat more of. Here’s a quick breakdown of the nutritional benefits of pitaya per each one cup serving (or 227 grams):
- Calories: 136
- Protein: 3g
- Fat: 0g
- Carbs: 29g
- Fiber: 7g
- Iron: 8% recommended daily intake
- Magnesium: 18% recommended daily intake
- Vitamin C: 9% recommended daily intake
- Vitamin E: 4% recommended daily intake
- Pitaya Is Rich in Antioxidants
Pitaya is also really rich in antioxidants, which are known for helping fight inflammation and diseases. Studies have indicated that people who eat antioxidant-rich diets have lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and arthritis. Talk about benefits! Specifically speaking, pitaya is rich in the following antioxidants:
Carotenoids: Pitaya is rich in the carotenoids lycopene and beta-carotene, both of which give pitaya its bright and vibrant colors. Many studies have linked carotenoid-rich diets with decreased cancer risk, which is pretty cool! Other foods that are rich in carotenoids are other vibrant fruits and veggies like oranges, spinach, carrots, broccoli, bell peppers, and many more.
Vitamin C: There are tons of studies about the benefits of Vitamin C, and its healing benefits are often cited when people feel run down or catch a common cold. Vitamin C is great at breaking down free radicals, which occur during digestion, tobacco exposure, UV radiation exposure, x-rays, and other things like that. Free radicals are linked to cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses, so eating a lot of VItamin C is good for combatting that.
Betalains: Ever heard of betalains before? If not, don’t worry. Betalains are phytonutrients that are present in many plants– including fruits and veggies. These nutrients provide detoxification support, anti-inflammatory properties, and antioxidants. Betalains are found in Swiss chard, red beets, cactus pear, pitaya, and some tubers as well.
Pitaya Is High in Fiber
Pitaya is also high in fiber, which helps support healthy digestion as well as protecting against heart disease and certain cancers. Each single serving of pitaya– one cup or 227 grams– contains 7 grams of fiber, which makes up a good amount of the recommended 25-38 grams of fiber you should eat per day.
There are tons of studies proving the benefits of high-fiber diets, including all of the following:
- Helps keep your bowels healthy. Eating a lot of fiber can help protect you against hemorrhoids and diverticular disease, as well as decreasing your risk of colon cancer.
- Keeps you regular. According to medical experts, normal bowel movements occur anywhere from 3 times per week to 3 times per day. Fiber helps keep your bowel movements regular in terms of frequency and texture, and can help with constipation as well as firming up loose stools.
- Helps regulate blood sugar levels. Soluble fiber has been shown to slow the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream for people with diabetes. Additionally, eating insoluble fiber can lower your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
- Lowers your cholesterol. High-fiber foods– especially foods high in soluble fiber– are linked to lower cholesterol levels and other heart benefits.
- Helps you maintain a healthy weight. Eating high-fiber diets has been linked to maintaining a healthy weight. This is because fiber-rich foods like pitaya are typically more filling than low-fiber foods, so you stay full for longer.
Pitaya Has Prebiotics
Another of the many health benefits that pitaya offers is the fact that it has prebiotics. Prebiotics and probiotics are important parts of keeping your gut microbiome healthy and functioning properly. Many people are surprised when they discover that their gut contains over 100 trillion microorganisms and 400 species of bacteria. Of these 400 types of bacteria, there are some that are bad and some that are good, and eating prebiotic-rich foods can help encourage good bacteria to grow while controlling the growth of bad bacteria.
How Do You Eat Pitaya?
As is the case with many exotic fruits, it can be intimidating to try to figure out exactly how to eat one. Pitayas have thick and leathery skin that can seem difficult to penetrate, but don’t worry– preparing and eating pitaya is easy!
How to Tell a Pitaya Is Ripe
The first step to eating and enjoying a pitaya with all of its health benefits is to pick a ripe one that’s ready to eat. It’s important to get this part right, especially with your first pitaya. This is because underripe pitaya isn’t as tasty as ripe pitaya, similar to peaches and kiwis.
Also similar to peaches and kiwis (and avocados, too) a ripe pitaya should be slightly soft but not mushy. When you press on the fruit it should have a little bit of give but not too much. On the flip side, it shouldn’t be so firm that you can’t feel any give at all when pressing.
You can also tell if a pitaya is ripe by the color. Unripe pitaya will be mostly green with very little red or pink hues. A ripe and ready to eat pitaya will be mostly red or pink. It’s also fairly normal to notice some bruising or spots on your pitaya, but avoid fruits that have a lot of bruising because this might indicate its overripe or gone bad.
How to Eat a Pitaya
Now it’s time for the good part! To get a pitaya ready to eat, you first need to cut into it. Since the skin of a pitaya is thick and leathery, we suggest using a sharp knife to cut into it. Be careful though, you don’t want to accidentally cut yourself or others.
For best results, cut the pitay in half lengthwise. Unlike an avocado or a peach, pitayas don’t have pits or big seeds in the center, so you’ll be able to cut all the way through. Once you’ve cut your pitaya in half you can use a spoon to scoop out the fleshy fruit inside. It will be riddled with tiny seeds like a kiwi, but this is normal and these are totally edible. If you prefer not to use a spoon to scoop out the fruit, you can cut it into cubes instead.
Pitaya is great on its own, but is also a great addition to tons of recipes including salads and smoothies, or even as a topping for yogurt. If you’re struggling to find fresh pitaya at your local store or market, try looking in the frozen section where you may find it among the smoothie or frozen fruit aisle.
Keep in mind, however, that pitaya is an imported food that isn’t indigineous to America. Therefore it often costs a bit more than fruits that are grown locally. At some stores you might find that a single fresh pitaya costs nearly $6, but it can go up to $10 per fruit in some places. For a lower pitaya price, try shopping for them at Asian grocery stores, as these are likely to have a wide assortment of fruits and vegetables that are native to asian countries.
Recipes Using Pitaya
If you’re looking to get creative with your pitaya, try checking out a few of these awesome recipes that use fresh or frozen pitaya.
Pitaya pudding is a fun and easy way to add more pitaya to your diet. Plus– it’s delicious, too! To make this recipe you’ll need the following ingredients:
- 1 pitaya
- 5 rambutans – peeled and seeded, finely diced
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 packet unflavored gelatin
- ½ cup water
- 1 can lite or low fat coconut milk
To start, combine water and gelatin in a small bowl and set aside for five minutes so gelatin can bloom. Next, combine the sugar and coconut milk in a saucepan over low-medium heat; bring to a simmer. Add the pitaya to a bowl and smush it up with a fork, then add the pitaya and the rambutan to the saucepan. Add the gelatin to the saucepan as well and stir continuously for 1 minute. Remove from heat and pour into molds or bowls and refrigerate for at least four hours until the pudding is soft but firm to touch. Enjoy!
Mango Pitaya Smoothie
This delicious smoothie is packed with nutrients and only takes about five minutes to make! It’s a great way to add some fruit to your diet without going to a lot of trouble. To make this smoothie you’ll need:
- ¾ cup pitaya
- ¾ cup mango
- 1 banana
- ¼ cup blueberries
- Juice of ½ lime
- ¼ cup milk or milk alternative of your choice
- ¾ tbsp chia seeds, plus extra for topping
To make this recipe, simply combine all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and smoothie-like in texture. Pour into the glass or bowl of your choice and top with the extra chia seeds. To enjoy as a smoothie bowl, top with some fresh cut fruit and granola.
Pitaya is a wonderful fruit that is high in nutrients and is great for your health. Despite the vibrant exterior and exotic alternative name of dragon fruit, pitaya is really quite mild in flavor. This fruit is packed with healthy nutrients and benefits including magnesium, Vitamin C, antioxidants, and prebiotics.
You can buy pitaya fresh or frozen, but it may be difficult to find fresh pitaya in some cities or stores, given that it is not indigineous to North America. There are a lot of ways you can enjoy pitaya, whether you incorporate it into a recipe or enjoy it on its own.