Dragon fruit, a cactus in the genus Hylocereus, grows in tropical countries. It gets its name from the appearance of its skin. The flesh may be white or magenta.
In my family, it was my husband, Speedy, who was first introduced to dragon fruit. In Hong Kong, many years ago. He loved it so much that when he got home, he regaled us with his experience. He wasted no time hunting for dragon fruit in the local groceries and supermarkets. He did find it after a while. But, at the time, it was barely known in the Philippines and the price was dizzying.
Over the years, the local price of dragon fruit went from horrific to somewhat manageable and, at home, we went through a dragon fruit phase that lasted for months. We has dragon fruit in every imaginable way but, most often, we just peeled off the skin, cut the flesh into cubes or wedges and pierce the subtly sweet flesh with forks. We liked how the little seeds popped with every bite.
Eventually, we got bored with dragon fruit. Why? I’ll get to that later. Suffice to say at this point that, personally, I’ve always been a mango person. Even if all other fruits became unavailable or too unaffordable, I’ll be content if mango were the only fruit to land on our dining table.
From late January to early February of 2020, my daughter, Alex, and I were in Chiang Mai, and we went on a food tour. The last part of the experience was going around the streets surrounding Warorot Market. We visited the fruit vendors and the flower market before we had coconut custard pancakes.
At the fruit section, our guide introduced the group to tropical fruits. Alex and I were the only Asians in the group. The rest were Europeans and Americans. They loved rambutan, longan and dragon fruit. And they were amazed at the skins of the rambutan and dragon fruit.
Where was dragon fruit first cultivated and how did it arrive in Asia?
The first known use of the term dragon fruit in reference to the fruit was in 1963. What the English-speaking world called the fruit before then, I have no idea. It is possible that there wasn’t an English name for it because it was unknown outside the regions where it was traditionally cultivated.
Dragon fruit is native to Mexico, Central America and the northern parts of South America.
Dragon fruit plants are vine-like and can grow anywhere, with roots that can attach themselves to anything. These arial roots grow out of the soil until they find a tree to attach themselves to, and a mature plant can reach a length of 6 meters. The fruits set on the cactus tree between 30 to 50 days after flowering and can produce 4 to 6 harvests per year.Asian Itinerary
The French introduced dragon fruit to Vietnam and, from there it spread to Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. A 2012 article in Bangkok Post mentions serious interest in growing the cactus in northern Philippines. What the current status of that interest is, I have no idea.
What is it like to eat dragon fruit?
The unique looking skin and the speckled flesh are sights to behold. For people who eat with their eyes, I can understand how they are drawn to the fruit. The attraction is visual. The first time you see one, you get so intrigued at what that skin hides beneath it. And with a name like that, well, the mystery just multiplies.
In terms of flavor, texture and mouth feel, aside from the seeds popping as you chew the flesh, there’s really not much there. The sweetness is subtle — quite bland, in fact — and the texture is watery. The white dragon fruit has a slight tang. The magenta dragon fruit is more earthy. There is an element that hits the nose too although I can’t find the right word to describe it. I guess that after trying both, I conclude that I like the white dragon fruit better.
With its mediocre flavor, why has dragon fruit soared to global stardom?
People are attracted to beautiful things and they will imbue a pretty thing with virtue even when it isn’t there. But, to be fair to the dragon fruit, it does spread beauty to a wide array of dishes and drinks.
Try pureeing magenta dragon fruit flesh, and mixing it with milk, sugar and ice. Now serve dragon fruit shake on a hot and humid day. See if you don’t get lots of appreciation with plenty of ooohhs and aaahhs thrown in. And to think that it’s only milkshake.