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You eat with your eyes first—and that's never been truer than when it comes to dragon fruit. On the outside, it looks almost like a spiky dragon egg. It commands attention with its shockingly bright purple-pink hue. Smoothie-bowl lovers have helped this fruit grow in popularity. Don't worry if you haven't heard of dragon fruit, also called pitaya. Here we break down what it is, the nutrition and health benefits, what it tastes like and how to use it.
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"Dragon fruit is a tropical fruit from the cactus family," says Amy Shapiro, M.S., RD, CDN, founder of Real Nutrition. It's pink (or sometimes yellow) on the outside; on the inside it's white or magenta and speckled with small black seeds.
You can buy pitaya fresh at some grocery stores (summer is the peak season). However, to enjoy it year-round, the most accessible way to eat it is as frozen cubes, powder, or as a smoothie pack. (Pitaya Plus is a well-known popular brand available in major retailers like Target. Pitaya powder can be purchased on Amazon.) Don't shy away from it just because it's not fresh. "Frozen is just as good, if not better than fresh, as the nutrients remain intact because they are frozen at the point of harvest," says Shapiro. No matter what form you buy, purchase dragon fruit without any added sugar. (You don't need it anyway.)
Tempted to order one of those trendy pitaya smoothie bowls? Go for it. Pitaya is good for you: "It's a great source of magnesium and fiber, and the fruit has small amounts of iron and vitamin C," says Shapiro. For instance, according to Pitaya Plus, a 6-ounce serving of frozen pitaya cubes has about 100 calories, as well as 5 grams of filling fiber and 2 grams of protein.
Incorporating dragon fruit into your diet to ramp up fiber intake can boost your GI health, helping you become more regular, she adds. Plus, the carbohydrates supply energy to help you get your to-dos done. And finally, says Shapiro, the duo of iron and vitamin C offers a unique perk: "they work in tandem to increase absorption [of iron]."
If you're one of the 84 million U.S. adults who have prediabetes, you may want to make pitaya one of your go-to fruits. In a meta-analysis on four randomized controlled trials, researchers found that consuming red-fleshed dragon fruit helped people with prediabetes lower their fasting blood glucose levels, per the journal PLoS One. It may be the antioxidants in the fruit that help preserve the function of beta cells in the pancreas to improve insulin function.
As striking as it looks, the taste of this superfruit is surprisingly mild. "Don't expect big flavor," says culinary dietitian Sara Haas, RDN, LDN. "Dragon fruit is subtly sweet with a bit of earthiness, and some people say the taste and texture is like kiwi," she says.
When you're ready to dive into this superfruit, here are 7 delicious ways to enjoy it:
The most popular way to eat pitaya is in a smoothie or smoothie bowl (which is basically a thicker smoothie that you can eat with a spoon). It's by far the best way to celebrate pitaya's magenta color. That said, watch what you blend with it—greens (spinach) and blues (berries) will make the color unappealing, says Haas. To make a smoothie bowl, Haas recommends pairing pitaya with tropical flavors, like coconut, pineapple and banana, then topping with chia, toasted coconut, freeze-dried mango and chopped cashews.
Whirl with a frozen banana in a food processor for an ice cream-like treat, says Haas. For another refreshing, tropical treat, try our Pineapple Nice Cream recipe.
Use frozen cubes of dragon fruit to keep punch chilled, says Haas. You can also try the cubes in white or rosé wine.
Pitaya powder can be used as a natural food coloring in frostings and other foods when you need an impressive dash of bright pink.
Mango and dragon fruit are a natural duo, says Haas. She combines chopped fresh dragon fruit and mango with water, sugar, lime juice and tequila for an agua fresca. Try our skinny margarita formula for foolproof fruity cocktails.
Defrost dragon fruit, puree it into a juice and add it to baked goods, like muffins, or stir into yogurt or oatmeal, recommends Shapiro.
Chop fresh dragon fruit and combine with jalapeño, onion, cilantro and lime juice for a unique salsa. Use it as a fresh topping for a piece of chicken or fish, or in tacos.
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