ENTER THE DRAGON FRUIT
Text and Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio
In Central and South America where it is native, it is known as “pitahaya.” But in most parts of the world, it is called dragon fruit because it is covered by green-tipped overlapping scales and has bright pink to red color. It is sweet, juicy, crispy, and tastes like pear, kiwi, and watermelon.
The fruit was probably introduced by Europeans who brought it from the New World. In the case of Taiwan, the fruit was brought in by the Dutch. In the Philippines, the fruit was introduced in Philippines in the 1900s through trading.
Dragon fruits are usually eaten fresh. The fruits are peeled and the white or purple flesh, which has a mildly sweet taste, is eaten. Dragon fruits can also be used to prepare juice or wine.
The typical nutritional values per 100 grams of fresh dragon fruit (of which 55 grams are edible) are as follows: water 80-90 g; ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) 4–25 mg; ash 0.4-0.7 g; calcium 6–10 mg; calories: 35-50; carbohydrates 9-14 g; carotene (Vitamin A) traces; fat 0.1-0.6 g; fiber 0.3-0.9 g; iron 0.3-0.7 mg; niacin (Vitamin B3) 0.2-0.45 mg; phosphorus 16 – 36 mg; protein 0.15-0.5 g; thiamine (Vitamin B1) traces; and riboflavin (Vitamin B2) traces.
According to the Department of Science and Technology, typical dragon fruit is rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytoalbumins (which act as antioxidants, which can prevent the formation of cancer).
Its other health benefits are as follows: enhances the body metabolism (protein), improves digestion (fiber), reduces fat (fiber), and improves memory (carotene). It also maintains the health of the eyes (carotene), strengthens bones and teeth development (calcium), helps metabolize carbohydrates, and produces energy (vitamin B1).
The website of Natural Food Benefits cites the following health benefits of eating dragon fruits:
· Keeping a heart-healthy low cholesterol diet? Don’t worry about your cholesterol. Dragon fruit is both low in cholesterol and has little to no unhealthy cholesterol producing fats (certain fats that are metabolized to cholesterol contribute to increased cholesterol levels more than even cholesterol itself in food sources of cholesterol).
· The amount of vitamin C in dragon fruit is high, and because dragon fruit is a natural fruit providing you with a rich balance of nutrients coming along with the vitamin C, you absorb the Vitamin C in dragon fruit efficiently when you eat dragon fruit as part of your fruit healthy diet.
· Dragon fruit is a good natural source of antioxidants that help to prevent the dangers of free radicals which can cause cancer and other undesirable health detriments. The number, quantity, and variety of antioxidants in real foods like dragon fruit are completely unmatched by any food supplement or pills – even those claiming to have “antioxidant” health benefits. Nothing compares to the rich array of nutrients and antioxidants in a portion of real natural food like the dragon fruit.
· Dragon fruit does have a small number of fats because there are so many seeds in the edible part of the fruit. There can be literally thousands of the small black seeds in any given dragon fruit, and like most seeds and nuts they have both fats and protein in them while the flesh of the fruit itself has virtually none.
· Dietary fiber is an important nutrition factor for everyone from young to old, and the best way to get dietary fiber is to eat fruits and vegetables including fruits like the dragon fruit. As you might expect, like many fruits, dragon fruit has lots of dietary fiber with almost 1 gram of fiber per 100 grams of the fresh dragon fruit.
Besides eaten directly, dragon fruit has also been created as a raw material for making wine. In Malaysia, dragon fruit is not yet ripe and can be cooked as a soup and mixed with meat and bones. Besides, dragon fruit is also used as a raw material for salad.
The unopened buds, dried flowers, and fruit skin can also be processed into food. The unopened buds can be made into a delicious fresh salad. The dried flowers, on the other hand, can be cooked into “lumpiang” shanghai, a Chinese delicacy. In addition, the dried flowers can also be used as an ingredient for “bulalo” broth or processed into delicious dragon balls (meatballs).
The fruit skin can be cooked with malunggay leaves; it can also be processed into jam.
Noel T. Estellena, the senior agriculturist of the Department of Agriculture’s Southern Mindanao Integrated Agricultural Research Center (SMIARC), shares the following tips on growing dragon fruit:
Dragon fruit grows best in uniformly distributed rainfall throughout the year. It prefers free-draining soil with sandy to clay loam types, 5.3 to 6.7 pH, and high organic matter. However, dragon fruit is also grown successfully in sandy soils. It is shallow-rooted with most roots concentrated on the top 15- 30 cm soil depth.
Dragon fruit is propagated by seeds or stem cuttings. The latter is more preferred. Stem cuttings were raised in the nursery for 2 -3 months.
Recommended planting distance is 3 meters between concrete posts and 4 meters between rows. A narrower spacing gives quicker production than larger spacing. Higher density plantings produce quicker returns, but plants will begin to crowd each other sooner.
Planting is done at 3 to 4 plants per pot. Apply a handful of complete fertilizer (14-14-14) 3 months after planting and continue fertilizer applications every 3 months thereafter. Dragon fruit also requires organic matter.
Major and minor pruning is a regular orchard operation regardless of the age of dragon fruits. Prune to obtain an open, manageable, and productive umbrella-shaped canopy.
The roots, stems, foliar and flower buds, flower, and fruit are attacked by a range of pests and diseases. Pests include mites, thrips, ants, scale insects, mealy bugs, beetles, slugs, borers, nematodes, fruit flies, and rodents such as mice, birds, or bats.
Just a reminder: Avoid, however, pesticide spraying when nearing harvest time. Bagging of green fruit using clear perforated polyethylene bags (China-made) is recommended to protect the fruit from fruit fly stings.
Irrigation is critical during fertilizer applications and fruiting. Excess drying of soil and less frequent irrigation results in the abnormally high splitting of fruit. For newly planted Pitaya, allow the soil to dry before irrigation to avoid rots.
Harvesting indices include full red coloration of the terminal petal and swelling of the navel end to the point of cracking. Based on Davao planting, the harvest period includes the first cycle of harvest: from June to October; the second cycle of harvest: from December to January.