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August, 2010

A Dragon's Tale: Fruit of the Moon Flower

By Dennis Linden

Dragon Fruit, a native of Central America and a staple commodity in Southeast Asia, grows to the beat of a very unique drummer in many ways

Dragon Fruit Plant
This hand-size, spineless fruit of a climbing, night-blooming cactus vine has a smooth, flaming pink skin of prominent scales that protect either a white or neon magenta pulp. This interior fruit is dotted with tiny, edible black seeds, similar to those in kiwi fruit. Its crisp and juicy texture has a subtle flavor mix of kiwi, pear and watermelon.

To see the cactus vine and fruit in the orchard explains its namesake. The plant looks very much like the familiar Christmas cactus house plant, only on a much larger scale, having many gangly branches of elongated cactus pads growing haphazardly in all directions. Commercial plants can completely envelop a 6-8 foot trellis system with layered, weeping branches that spread wide and resembling a scaly dragon from a distance. In fact, both the blossoms and fruit itself resemble torch-like flames shooting out from all over the plant, which adds to the dragon illusion. Actually, this writer is very grateful to let the art of photography best capture the unique appearance of both the dragon fruit and its mother plant as they really defy description!

It gets even stranger. Those torch-like flowers bloom only for one night [aka moon flowers] and then wilt at dawn, making for a narrow window of opportunity for the pollination that is necessary to set fruit. Since bees are grounded at night, the plant must rely on nocturnal critters, like fruit bats, for pollination. Hand pollinating techniques can also be applied, but it is a tedious process and has never been as successful as nature’s way. However, a Dragon plant can have four to six of these fruiting cycles per year.

Dragon Fruit
To choose a Dragon Fruit that is ready to eat, hold the fruit in your palm and press the whole fruit evenly and gently; it should give just a little, like a ripe kiwi, but should not be too soft or mushy. If the skin has a lot of color blotches, it is probably over-ripe (a few is normal). Another sign of over-ripe fruit is a very dry, brittle brown stem, or brown on the tips of the scalloped scale-like “leaves”.

One of the most important metabolic affects connected to Dragon Fruit is that it has been proven to control glucose blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes immediately after a meal, if eaten just before that meal. This fruit packs quite a dose of healthy side effects. Dragon Fruit contains high levels of antioxidants that can help prevent the formation of cancer-causing free radicals. It has been credited with decreasing bad cholesterol levels, improving appetite, enhancing the body’s metabolism because of its protein content; plus it can improve digestion, reduce fat, maintain healthy eyes, strengthen bones and teeth, as well as promote tissue development and the quick healing of cuts and bruises. A Super Food if there ever was one!

So getting all these healthy benefits working for your body is the fun part. The simplest way to prepare Dragon Fruit is to cut the fruit in half lengthwise, scoop the pulp out with a spoon, dice it into cubes and serve chilled in a bowl with a sweetener of choice. Those same cubes could also be tossed into a mixed fruit or green salad for a splash of unusual color and taste. In fact, try serving it in a salad to guests as a mystery ingredient and have fun listening to their guesses as to what it is! Add it to a stir-fry in the last few minutes of cooking or use it as a component in a mixed fruit sauce over pork or chicken. As a healthy drink, it makes a tasty smoothie. In Asia, its juice is a favorite alcohol beverage ingredient. Now there’s the perfect cocktail – one that lowers blood sugar!

Dragon Fruit will be in season domestically until about mid November from Southern California. To insure a consistent supply of high quality fruit, Melissa’s has been working with the same grower for a decade, encouraging commercial expansion by helping to develop a program suited for this temperate growing zone. Considering the super food health qualities and eye appeal of this strikingly beautiful fruit, we think it is only a matter of time before Dragon Fruit becomes as commonplace in this country as it is in many other parts of the world.