The pitaya, or dragon fruit, is an excellent fruit that is cultivated throughout the arid regions of Latin America and the world. In Colombia, the pitaya is very popular, and can be purchased in most produce markets. The following is a review of the pitaya, and is part of the Fruits of South America series.
VILLA DE LEYVA, Colombia- If a corn cob could aspire to be a fruit it would be a Latin American pitaya. I must admit that I was taken aback when I saw a pile of the cylindrical yellow fruits with a masses of stubby little thumbs protruding from their outer surfaces neatly stacked up in a bin in the back corner of a produce market.
“How do you eat this thing?” I asked one of the workers while hesitantly holding a pitaya up between a thumb and forefinger. She looked at me as though I was asking her how to eat something as common as a banana, “you just peal the skin and eat it.”
[adsense]Pitayas are a common fruit in Colombia, and my first reaction was that I had never seen one anywhere else in the world. This is also not a fruit that you can easily forget either: it is spiny, yellow, and looks as though it would be more at home growing out of a coral reef than in a bin at a produce market. But I had seen pitayas before. In fact, I’ve eaten them with relish on many occasions.
In China and Southeast Asia the pitaya is commonly know as “dragon fruit,” and is something that most Asian travelers delight in not only eating, but looking at, photographing — the fruit is a common topic of conversation. The catch here is that the pitaya of Asia are bright pink and have a flaky skin that looks oddly akin to flames; whereas in South America pitayas are a dull yellow with protruding, cankerous nodules covering their surfaces.
Fruits are like dogs — they are cross bred, genetically twisted, and re-manifested over and over as they are spread over the earth. Who would believe that a chihuahua and a great Dane are nearly the same thing? Without slicing them open, who would believe that the below two fruits are also one and the same:
History of Pitaya Cultivation
The pitaya comes from the Hylocereus cacti, which is native to Mexico, Central and South America. The plant has since been spread throughout the arid regions of the world, and are now cultivated in Southeast Asia, southern China, Bangledesh, Sri Lanka, Hawaii, Isreal, and Australia. Pitayas can be grown virtually anywhere there is a warm, arid climates suitable to cacti.
The pitaya is also a profitable fruit go grow, as it can germinate five to six times per year. It is reported that in some parts of Vietnam, farmers are able to yeild 30 tons of pitaya fruit per hectare each year.
What do Pitayas Taste Like?
The Seri people of northwestern Mexico call the cacti that produces pitayas “ziix is ccapxl,” or, “the thing whose fruit is sour,” and this pretty much sums up the taste of this fruit pretty well. After shucking away the peel, the white, seedy pulp that is left behind is the part that you eat. It is soft and juicy and the seeds give it a pleasant texture. The taste of the pitaya is sharp, though not over powering, an excellent balance between sweet and sour that is held together by a webbed, seedy pulp. To put it subjectively, the pitaya is a delicious fruit.
“It tastes like a kiwi, only not as strong of a flavor,” my wife observed.
I have to agree very much with this sentiment: although the pitaya is more closely related to the prickly pear, it is very much like the kiwi in terms of texture and taste.
“It is good for the digestion,” a Colombian woman who served as my local fruit consultant told me, “when you are hard it makes it all come out.”
Good to remember.
Nutritional value of the pitaya
Pitayas are a very nutritious fruit, boasting relatively high amounts of carotene, calcium, fiber, multiple B vitamins, vitamin C, and phosphorous.
Upon seeing tasting the white interior of the pitaya, I recognized the fruit. The Latin American pitaya tastes pretty much exactly the same as the Asian dragon fruit. So I must wonder why travelers rave about one and not the other? In Southeast Asia, it is the height of cool to bring a bag of flaming pink dragon fruit back to the hostel, but in Latin America I have yet to see any other backpacker besides myself munching on a knobby, yellow pitaya. Appearance means everything in food selection: flaming hot pink trumps dull yellow any day.
But as far as taste, a pitaya is a pitaya, a dragon fruit is a dragon fruit, and both geographic varieties are a magnificent fruit: absolutely delicious. Pitaya can be had in Colombia for around 5,000 pesos, or $3 per pound.