Dragon fruit, also known as pitaya or pitahaya, are native to Costa Rica and its surrounding region. Dragon fruit grows on long, vining cactus plants that cling to trees, fences or walls. Dragon fruit is available in 3 different varieties: yellow, white, and red. On the outside, red dragon fruit has thin, inedible, leathery skin that is pink to magenta-colored with prominent, succulent, leafy flaps that are tipped in green, similar to its white-fleshed counterpart. On the inside, the flesh of a red dragon fruit is magenta and studded with tiny black seeds that are edible and add a bit of texture to the fruit, very similar to a kiwi. The flavor is mild, sweet and refreshing and similar to a mixture of pear and kiwi, with a subtle acidity. The magenta colored flesh is due to the presence of betacyanins, a pigment that also colors beets, Swiss chard, and prickly pear. Red dragon fruit contains vitamin C, potassium, phosphorous, dietary fiber, along with other nutritional benefits.
**Please note: this fruit is heavy. Each piece is typically at least 1 pound each. **
Ripening and Storage:
Red dragon fruit is ripe when you press the flesh and it has a little give. The skin will also be a vibrant magenta color rather than green, and the leafy flaps will wither. Leave unripened dragon fruit on the counter for a few days and touch-test it. Once ripe, the fruit can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. It can also be frozen for up to a year when sealed in a plastic bag. If it is too soft, or has too many dark spots (kind of like bruises on an apple) that means it may be overripe and the texture will not be as good.
Red dragon fruit is typically eaten raw, either scooped straight out of the skin or cubed, balled or sliced. When the fruit is ripe is will separate easily from the skin. It is especially delicious when eaten cold. Slice the fruit lengthwise or in half and use a spoon to scoop out the pulp and seeds. You can also use a knife to peel the fruit. Once the fruit is separated from the skin you can cut it into slices or cubes. Red dragon fruit will stain the skin and clothing, so be careful when preparing.
Red dragon fruit is used to give flavor and color to juices and alcoholic beverages such as "Dragon's Blood Punch" and the "Dragotini". Fresh dragon fruit can be added to tropical fruit salads or served alone. The pulp can be pureed and added to smoothies, sorbet, desserts, sauce, syrup, and baked goods. The fruit can also be dried and preserved.