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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Hidden dragon fruit comes out of obscurity

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

Dragon fruit comes from the night-blooming cereus and is creating a culinary stir.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Everybody's excited about dragon fruit — everybody who has seen one, that is. Growers on O'ahu, Maui and the Big Island are experimenting with it. Chefs such as James McDonald at Pacific'O on Maui are wowing customers with it. Chinatown vendors are selling out of them despite an eye- popping price tag (we spent $7.20 for two of them last week).

Dragon fruit grows on a member of the cactus family that will look mighty familiar to Islanders, even if the fruit is strange. It's Hylocereus undatus, better known here as night-blooming cereus. Dragon fruit also is known as pitaya or pitahaya, and the name includes other Hylocereus types, according to San Diego fruit expert Leo Manuel.

The fruit can be red to fuschia on the outside, with dramatic green dragon-like scales like a kohlrabi gone mad; the flesh is soft, gelatinous and spoonable and can range from white to yellow, embedded with edible black seeds that resemble sesame seeds. The flavor is very subtle, perfumed and only slightly sweet. Some compare it to kiwi, but the taste is less pronounced. Not surprisingly, others liken it to the prickly pear or cactus pear. When ripe, the fruit peels as easily as a banana.

The plants are natives of Central America (pitaya is a Spanish name) but are cultivated extensively in Asia, especially in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. There, they grow in orderly rows, multiple stalks bound together to form an upright column for several feet, then allowed to flop outward to catch the sun and promote fruiting.

Dragon fruit is not yet widely available, but sometimes you can find it in farmers' markets. Store at room temperature and cut in half or into wedges or slices. For more information, see www.rarefruit.com.