Tropical Fruit

Everything You Need to Know About Dragon Fruit

February  1, 2014

Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more. 

Today: We're taking a tropical staycation in our kitchen and exploring exotic fruits. Next up, pitayas.

Everything You Need to Know About Dragon Fruit, from Food52

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Good things come from prickly plants -- like tequila, nopales, and dragon fruit. (Dragon fruit's proper name is pitaya, but its mythical creature-inspired name is more popular.) The pitaya plant is a climbing cactus, and the plant’s flower is impressive -- not only visually, but also with the brief window it provides for pollination. The flower opens in the evening, ready for bats, moths, or hand-pollination, and by morning it wilts. (Some varieties are self-pollinating, but that’s much less exciting than a pollination race against time.) 

More: Think that’s high-maintenance? Meet endive.

Everything You Need to Know About Dragon Fruit, from Food52

You’re most likely to come across dragon fruit with a pink peel (4), green scales (3), and white flesh (1) that’s studded with tiny edible black seeds (2), similar to kiwifruit. Other varieties have pink or deep magenta-colored flesh, or white flesh with a yellow peel. We wouldn’t say that the dragon fruit is just blowing smoke, but it does look far more dramatic than it tastes. Another one of one of pitaya’s monikers -- strawberry pear -- gives a hint to the fruit’s flavor: a delicate berry, watermelon, kiwi, and pear blend.

Peak dragon fruit season is in the summer and early fall, but thanks to different growing locations and off-season production techniques (like tricking the plant with supplemental lighting), it’s possible to find dragon fruit close to year-round. Visit a specialty grocery store, or your local farmers market if you have the good fortune of living where they're grown. The fruit will keep on the counter for a few days; if you want to keep it longer than that, store it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Everything You Need to Know About Dragon Fruit, from Food52

Dragon fruit is easy to prep -- just cut the fruit into quarters or slices, and peel off the skin. It's often used as a garnish, or in fruit salads, but it works in savory salads and pairs well with seafood too. Try using dragon fruit in a smoothie or a cocktail. Pitayas can be used to make jam, ice cream, and all manner of other desserts. We're partial to simply slicing it in half and scooping out the flesh (5) with a spoon (like slooping!) -- couch and cheesy romantic comedy optional, but highly encouraged.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy dragon fruit? Tell us in the comments!

Photos by James Ransom

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • LeBec Fin
    LeBec Fin
  • belinda
  • Mizpah Matus
    Mizpah Matus
  • Bold Vegan // Molly Patrick
    Bold Vegan // Molly Patrick
  • M.O.
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


LeBec F. February 23, 2014
what about dried dragonfruit? how should i use that? (I bought at TrJoes a year or so ago)
Lindsay-Jean H. February 23, 2014
I love the freeze dried fruits at Trader Joe's! I like them sprinkled on yogurt or added into trail mixes.
belinda February 3, 2014
Please include information about "about do I know it's ripe & ready to eat?"
Great Photos!
Thanks :)
Lindsay-Jean H. February 3, 2014
When gently pressed, a ripe pitaya will have a little bit of give to it -- like a perfectly ripe avocado or kiwifruit -- overly soft fruits are probably past their prime.
Mizpah M. February 3, 2014
All dragonfruit in the states is irradiated. They really do taste better in South East Asia. The best ones I've ever had were red dragonfruits in Malaysia.
I like to make smoothies with them - they go well with young coconut and banana.
Bold V. February 1, 2014
I love this fruit! The first time I went to South East Asia I fell in love with all of the tropical fruit. Dragonfruit is one of my faves. Like you, I like to open it, scoop and eat :) My least fave? Durian, of course!
M.O. February 1, 2014
Any tips on how to know if you've got a good dragonfruit? We had dragonfruit several times in Hong Kong and loved it, but the two or three times I've gotten it in the states is has been expensive and flavorless.