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Pitaya or Dragon Fruit Review

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.

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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:

Two types of Pitaya - the left is from Asia, the right is from Latin America

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?

A Latin American pitaya in Colombia

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.

Wade peeling a pitaya

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.

Pitaya conclusion

A bisected pitaya

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.

More on pitayas or dragon fruits



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Filed under: Colombia, Food, Fruit, South America

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3722 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

12 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

  • david September 14, 2011, 3:36 am

    Hey Wade,

    Can you send me some seeds to South Africa? It might just be a hit over here! Would love to get hold of the asian one’s seeds as well!

    Best regards,

    Link Reply
    • Wade Shepard September 14, 2011, 12:15 pm

      Here’s the thing with that:

      It seems as if you need multiple plants for them to cross-pollinate to produce fruit or something like that. So while you can grow the cactus from the seeds they won’t bear fruit. I don’t know much about this, but if you can figure it out I can send you some seeds. Let me know.

      Link Reply
      • Wade Shepard September 14, 2011, 12:15 pm

        But you may be better off just ordering them from a seed supply company in South Africa.

  • ryan September 15, 2011, 9:27 pm

    Those cost $5.00 U.S. EACH! at our local market/ whole foods

    Link Reply
    • Wade Shepard September 15, 2011, 9:30 pm

      Oh man, come to Colombia!

      Link Reply
  • Caitlin September 21, 2011, 7:08 pm

    Actually, the ones in Mexico are the pink ones, at least those I’ve seen.

    Link Reply
  • sam January 19, 2012, 10:09 am

    In the netherlands the yellow ones sell for about 6 euro´s the piece.
    That is very expensive. You should think about exporting them (-:

    Link Reply
    • Wade Shepard January 19, 2012, 3:35 pm

      That’s insane! Yes, getting some of these seeds and growing them would be a good business.

      Link Reply
  • sam January 21, 2012, 3:09 pm

    I recomend cuttings.. you can grow a fruit producing cactus in less than 2 years with a cutting. From seed will take about 7.

    Link Reply
    • Wade Shepard January 22, 2012, 1:09 pm

      Thanks for this tip. The only problem is cross-pollinating the fruits. But if you had cuttings from male and female Pitaya cacti, this is a great suggestion.

      Link Reply
  • Soenarto May 3, 2012, 2:47 am

    Hi Wade,
    where i can buy yellow dragon fruit (pithaya)? i live in indonesia.
    thank you

    Link Reply
    • Wade Shepard May 3, 2012, 2:49 am

      I’m not sure. Most of the dragon fruit I’ve seen in Asia are the ones with pink skin. In fact, I’ve only seen the yellow ones in South America. But I believe that the fruits of each are just about the same.

      Link Reply