Pitaya , or pitahaya , is the common name for the fruits of several species of cacti from the genera Hylocereus and Stenocereus . The English common name for these fruits is dragon fruit (“dragon fruit”; in the Russian-language media, the name “dragonfruit” is sometimes used in relation to pitaya).
Plants of this genus are climbing epiphytic liana-shaped cacti, common in Mexico, Central and South America; most of them are characterized by large fragrant white flowers that open at night. Currently, these plants are commercially cultivated in many countries of Southeast Asia – such as Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Malaysia, Japan (Okinawa), China, Taiwan – as well as in the USA (Hawaii ), Israel, Northern Australia.
History [edit | edit code]
In 1553, in the book ” Chronicle of Peru ” by Cies de Leon, the first description of pitahaya is given:
“The largest valleys and slopes [of the province of Armagh] are like gardens, accordingly they are inhabited and full of all kinds of fruit trees, of which one very tasty, called Pitaaya , is purple in color. This fruit has such a feature that after eating it, even one, you want to urinate, emitting urine of a bloody color” 
Cultivation [edit | edit code]
Hylocereus is adapted to life in dry tropical climates with moderate rainfall.
The fruits are tied 30-50 days after flowering, sometimes up to 5-6 fruitful cycles are observed per year. Some farms in Vietnam produce up to 30 tons per hectare annually  .
Parasites and diseases [edit | edit code]
Too much moisture or rain can cause flowers to drop early and fruit to rot. Often unripe fruits are pecked by birds. The bacterium Xanthomonas campestris causes stem rot. Dothiorella fungi can cause brown spots on the fetus, but this disease is rare.
Fruits [edit | edit code]
Sweet pitaya usually refers to one of the following three types with smooth skin covered with leaf-like growths:
- Hylocereus undatus (red pitahaya) has a red-pink fruit and white flesh.
- Hylocereus costaricensis (Costa Rican pitaya, also called Hylocereus polyrhizus ) has a red-skinned fruit with red flesh.
- Hylocereus megalanthus (yellow pitahaya, formerly related to Selenicereus ) has a yellow-skinned fruit with white flesh.
The fruit weighs 150-600 grams, some specimens reach a kilogram  . The pulp is eaten raw, has a sweetish taste and is low in calories. Reviews that pitaya are tasteless are extremely rare, although the taste may seem insipid. It is recommended to eat pitaya slightly chilled; It is not recommended to combine pitaya with dishes with a sharp taste. In addition, pitahaya can be made into juice or wine, or used to flavor other drinks. The flowers are edible and can also be brewed into tea.
To prepare the pitaya for consumption, the fruit is usually cut vertically into two halves. After that, you can either cut these halves into slices (similar to how a melon is cut), or scoop out the pulp with a spoon  . Although pitaya seeds are rich in valuable lipids , they are usually indigestible unless chewed. The skin is inedible and may contain pesticides.
When eating large amounts of red-fleshed pitahaya (such as Costa Rican), pseudohematuria, a harmless reddening of urine and feces, may occur  .
( Hylocereus undatus )
Now, in the period of globalization, what kind of exotic fruits can not be found on the shelves of our stores! The strangest in appearance is a fruit from Vietnam, the “heart of the dragon.” Bristling like a hedgehog with green needles, behind which it hides a red or purple peel, the fruit conceals a tender and fragrant pulp. It resembles butter cream with poppy seeds – so densely the entire inside of the fruit is dotted with small black bones. And what does the “heart of the dragon” taste like? How and with what is it eaten? You will learn about this and much more from this article.
Despite the fact that now the “dragon heart” fruit is mainly brought from the tropical countries of Southeast Asia, the plant is native to Central and Latin America. The ancient Aztecs have long used the fruits for food, calling them “pitaaya”. From here, the fruit has other names. It is called “pittahaya”, “dragon eye”, “prickly pear”. The British know it as dragon fruit, and in Thailand it is called “keumangkon”. But no matter how many names people give to this fruit, in a strict scientific classification it is listed as Hylocereus. And most importantly, pitahaya is actually the fruit of a cactus! Yes, only liana-like, growing not in arid deserts, but in humid tropical jungles. Pittahaya yields four to six times a year, its fruits tolerate transportation well. Plants thrive in this kind of climate. and therefore are now cultivated on an industrial scale in Sri Lanka, India, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand. They are also grown in Israel, Australia, Japan.
What is dragon heart fruit
These are small fruits (in general, from one hundred and fifty grams to half a kilogram). The plant has three types. Two of them have white flesh. This is a yellow (Hylocereus megalanthus) and red (Hylocereus undatus) pitahaya, the photo of which you see. The third species – Hylocereus costaricensis – is a Costa Rican, special. The pulp of the fruit, like the skin, is painted in a bloody color. Probably, this species gave such a sonorous name to the fruit – “dragon’s heart”. Color has no effect on the taste of the fruit. Yellow pittahaya costs a little more, but only because it is rarely cultivated in Asia. And the color of the pulp can be determined by leaf-like growths. If they are green, inside the fruit will be a white puree with seeds. If the leaves are pinkish, the flesh of the fruit will be red.
What is eaten
The liana-like pitaya cactus, the photo of which you see, blooms very beautifully. Large white buds open only at night and exude a strong, pleasant aroma. In this regard, flowers are used as a tea flavor (like jasmine). The ovary appears after forty days. Cactus buds are eaten like fresh vegetables. After two months from the time of flowering, fruit can be harvested. Of course, the fruit is consumed only in its raw form. Pittahaya can be served as a dessert dish on its own, but you can also include it in fruit salads. The pulp, mashed into puree, is very tasty paired with lime. Seeds are very useful, but in order for them to be absorbed by the body, they need to be chewed. Even Cies de Leon, the first European to describe pittahaya in his work Chronicle of Peru (sixteenth century), mentions one interesting property of this fruit. In a person who has eaten at least one small pitaya fruit, urine and feces turn bloody for a short time. This phenomenon is called pseudohematuria, and it does not cause any harm to the body, so you should not worry.
The benefits of the “dragon heart”
Pitaya is a fruit rich in iron, calcium and phosphorus. It also contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, E, a lot of C and PP. Pittahaya is ninety percent water. Fats, and even then polyunsaturated, are contained in a small amount. In general, this is a dietary fruit. It cannot be called particularly sweet, and therefore diabetics can safely consume it. The fruit lowers cholesterol levels, strengthens the immune system, helps to normalize the work of the gastrointestinal tract. It is useful for hypertensive patients, as it gently lowers blood pressure. In addition, pittahaya contains a vital substance – an antioxidant, which prevents the formation of free radicals that cause cancer. However, pittahaya should be used with caution in people with diseased kidneys.
How to choose a ripe fruit
Usually, the “dragon heart” fruit has a smooth red skin dotted with leaf-like growths. How to understand what is hidden inside? Is the fruit ripe? This is easy to determine by pressing on it with your finger. If the fruit is soft, pleasantly springy, then ripe. The taste of the fruit at first disappoints many. It is slightly watery, inexpressive, slightly sweet. Those who are used to the rich taste of mango will not appreciate it. But pittahaya should be “bitten”: after the first impression that it is “sweet kiwi with seeds”, there comes a feeling of delicate creamy refreshing pulp. The aroma of pittahaya is indescribable. But it disappears as soon as the fetus warms up. This all applies only to ripe pitaya. If the fruit is plucked early, it will be completely tasteless. But ripe fruits are easily peeled by hands – as if peony petals are opening.
How to eat pitaya
Usually the fruit is served like this. Cut it into halves and serve on a plate along with a dessert spoon. The pulp with bones is eaten away, and the prickly peel is thrown away. There is another way to serve. Also, the fruit is cut in half vertically, but a fruit knife is served with it, not a spoon. In this case, pittahaya is cut like a small melon or watermelon – into slices. In order not to evaporate the wonderful aroma of the “dragon’s heart”, the fruit is served chilled. However, you should not overdo it and freeze the pitahaya. Her taste is not very expressive. It can be lost as a result of hypothermia. Therefore, you should not combine it with other fruits or dishes that have a bright, rich taste. Among them, pittahaya will be “lost”, and you will not appreciate it undeservedly. Fruits with red pulp have a more pronounced taste, but with white pulp they are more refined. Moreover, in the homeland of pitaya, homemade wine, preserves, and jams are made from it. Try decorating dragon fruit puree with lime ice cream.
The Aztecs clothed the fruit “heart of the dragon” with many myths. All of them somehow explain the strange name of pitaya. It is believed that dragons once lived in the Yucatan. They attacked the villages and brought a lot of harm. Many heroes went out to fight dragons. And now there was only one – the most powerful and vicious. He spat fire at the heroes, but the Aztecs are a stubborn people, and instead of one fallen fighter, another came. Finally, the dragon was exhausted to such an extent that he no longer had any fire left. He spat out his heart and died. By the way, medicine is made from the stems of the cactus creeper. It stimulates the cardiovascular system.
- View the full imageThe outlandish nature of distant lands never ceases to amaze us with its exotic gifts. One of these gifts is pitaya. This fruit, Dragon Heart, has beneficial properties. He appeared in our country quite recently, so the Russians are not yet familiar. Let’s figure out how it is, what useful properties it has and what you need to know about it.
What is Dragon Heart?
Pitahaya, or pitahaya, is the fruit of a tree-like cactus. This fruit is native to the tropical countries of South America. However, today it has spread widely in the tropical zone of the Earth, so it is grown in Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines. The fruit is known by many names: “dragon fruit”, “dragon heart”, “dragon eye” and many others. The names associated with dragons, the fruit received for its characteristic shape. Many beautiful legends are associated with it.
The shape of the fruit is somewhat similar to a spruce cone, it is also covered with large scales – growths.
But this is where the similarity ends, because the scales are soft and greenish, and the fruit itself has a color from bright pink to red. The fruit has a rounded shape, therefore it resembles a red heart, enveloped in a greenish flame. From this shape came the name Dragon Heart. Under favorable conditions, the mass of pitaya can reach 1 kg, but more often the fruits grow from 200 to 700 g.
The hard skin is not edible, but it can be easily peeled off to reveal white, creamy flesh. Depending on the variety, the flesh can also be cream, pink or bright red. But it always has a lot of small black seeds. The taste of the fruit is sweet and sour, reminiscent of a cross between a banana and kiwi.
Several varieties of pitaya are known:
- Red. This variety has bright pink skin and white or cream flesh. The taste is fresh-sweet, and the smell resembles the smell of herbs.
- Yellow. The shell of this variety is bright yellow, reminiscent of a quince or a banana in shade. The taste is closer to sweet than sour, and the aroma is quite strong and pleasant.
- Costa Rican. In this variety, both the peel and the flesh are red. The taste is very bright, even somewhat sugary.
Pitaya is widely used in the national cuisines of Southeast Asia. The pulp of the fruit is eaten fresh, added to salads and pastries. Thanks to its bright and unusual appearance, the fruit becomes an excellent table decoration. And the folk traditions of a number of countries prescribe the use of the Dragon Heart for wedding photo sessions.
Useful properties of pitaya
Pitahaya is not only tasty, but also healthy. Its pulp is a real storehouse of vitamins and useful trace elements. The fruits contain:
- Vitamins C, B1, B3.
- Trace elements: iron, potassium, phosphorus, calcium.
- Vegetable fiber, which plays an important role in the normalization of digestion processes.
- The seeds are rich in tannins.
An important feature of pitaya is a high concentration in the pulp of substances that can bind free radicals. Therefore, the use of pitahaya in food can slow down the aging process, reduce the risk of developing cancer, strengthen the body’s defense systems.
Also, this exotic fruit is able to correct carbohydrate metabolism disorders by reducing or increasing the amount of sugar in the blood.
In addition, pitaya has a beneficial effect on the joints, alleviating arthritis and arthrosis. The Heart of the Dragon will also be appreciated by those who are on a diet. The fruit is low-calorie, 100 g of pulp contains only 50 kcal. At the same time, the taste qualities will not leave indifferent even the most demanding gourmets.
How do you eat dragon heart?
Exotic fruits are amazing, but when it comes to eating, they can be confusing. The question of how to eat the outlandish Dragon Heart is also quite common. It is worth remembering that only the pulp is used for food, and the shell, although very decorative, is not suitable for eating.
There are two main ways to consume this fruit:
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- The fruit is cut in half, and then the pulp is eaten with a teaspoon, removing it from the shell, like ice cream from a vase.
- The peel is removed from the fruit, and the pulp is cut into slices before serving.
National traditions of serving this fruit recommend serving slices of the “dragon heart” pulp in its own removed shell. In this case, you can also add various nuts and pieces of other fruits to them. Served in this way, pitahaya will delight not only the taste, but also the gourmet’s eye and will become a real decoration of the table.
The small seeds that are dotted with the flesh of the pitaya can also be used as food. They are rich in nutrients and have a beneficial effect on the body when eaten. However, in order for the body to use the beneficial substances hidden in the seeds, they must be thoroughly chewed before swallowing.
The use of pitaya in medicine and cooking
The abundance of useful substances has made the Dragon Heart a plant widely used in folk medicine. This fruit is used to treat a number of diseases:
- Problems with the pancreas. In diabetes mellitus, the Dragon Heart can alleviate the patient’s condition by normalizing the amount of sugar in the blood.
- Increased acidity of gastric juice and concomitant diseases.
- Problems with the immune system, decreased ability of the body to fight disease. Strengthening the immune system is provided by a high concentration of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in this product.
- Diseases of the heart and blood vessels.
- Decreased visual acuity.
- A rich set of vitamins and microelements normalizes metabolism, which contributes to the overall health of the body.
Not only fruits have useful properties. Pitahaya stems are used to make preparations for the treatment of helminthiasis. The seeds of the “heart of the dragon”, rich in tannins and phenolic compounds, are used to make preparations for the treatment of diarrhea, the removal of heavy metal poisoning, and the treatment of throat diseases.
The fruit pulp is also used for cosmetic purposes.
Pitahaya mask relieves sunburn. This knowledge will be especially useful for tourists traveling to Southeast Asia to sunbathe on the beaches. In addition, fruit pulp puree tones the skin and produces a rejuvenating effect.
And of course, the Dragon Heart is just a very tasty and beautiful fruit. It is used for the manufacture of fruit salads, alcoholic beverages, sweets.
Who better to refrain from eating “dragon heart”?
Any exotic fruit usually causes some concern: is it possible to eat it, are there any contraindications? Pitaya also requires some caution.
If the family has a small child (up to 3 years of age) who has previously had diathesis, it is not recommended to give him pitaya pulp.
Since this fruit is not familiar to most Russians, the first time you use it, there is a risk of an allergy. Therefore, it is better to start tasting this fruit with a small piece, and then wait a while. And if some allergy symptoms began to appear (itching, redness of the skin, shortness of breath, runny nose), then take antihistamines. If everything went well, you can safely enjoy the wonderful taste of “dragon fruit”.
There are practically no other contraindications to the use of this fruit. But it is worth observing moderation, since overeating can cause indigestion (diarrhea, heartburn, bloating). This rule should be followed for all exotic fruits.
How to choose and store fruits?
Dragon Heart Fruits spoil very quickly, and their transportation is quite difficult. Therefore, in our country, this fruit is still exotic. It is easier to try pitaya at home, in Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines. When choosing a fetus, you should be guided by several rules:
- The average size of a ripe fruit is about a quarter of a kilogram. You should not choose fruits that are too small or too large, so as not to encounter overripe or unripe fruits.
- The color of the peel, regardless of the variety, should be even and saturated. If the color is not uniform, most likely the fruit is not yet ripe.
- Feel the fruit before buying. Unripe fruits are firm, ripe ones are noticeably softer.
- Pay attention to the leafy scales on the peel. If they are dried up, not green, it means that the fruit was plucked a long time ago and could have deteriorated.
- Carefully inspect the skin of the fruit before buying. If it has cracks, specks, rotten places – the fruit is not fresh and you should refuse to buy.
A ripe Dragon Heart spoils very quickly. Store purchased fruits in the refrigerator, and no longer than 4 days. If you are buying a fruit in Russia for some kind of celebration, it is better to choose a slightly unripe specimen. It will lie longer and gradually reach a ripe state even when stored in the refrigerator.
Pitaya is a great decoration for any holiday table. Properly selected and served fruit will give an unforgettable experience. And its unusual appearance will surprise guests and make the holiday more vivid and memorable.
More information can be found in the video