The legend of the dragon fruit

When you look at a dragon fruit the origins of its common name may appear obvious.But despite the fact that they are now grown in suitable climates all over the world – dragon fruit are actually native to Central and South America.

Not necessarily the land of dragons you may think. Pitaya or Pitahaya, as they were always known in their native land, are one of the most widely distributed members of the cactaceae family.

Genus Hylocereus has three species of dragon fruit and there is one additional species in the genus Selenicereus.

The most widespread varieties of Hylocereus in commercial cultivation are Hylocereus guatemalensis, Hylocereus polyrhizus, and Hylocereus undatus together with theirhybrids.Selenicereus megalanthus is grown commercially on a much smaller scale in South America and is especially popular in Columbia.

The colour of dragon fruit flesh varies in variety from white, to red, or deep magenta.

Like tomatoes, the red fleshed varieties contain lycopene – a natural antioxidant known to fight cancer, heart disease, and lower blood pressure. Lycopene is the focus of much recent research for its connection with anti ageing and UV skin protection.

Despite the health and beauty benefits from this exotic fruit – it has been largely ignored until relatively recently and is still not something that is familiar to western consumers.

Today dragon fruit are the leading fruit export of Vietnam and clever Asian marketing may have had something to do with the emergence of the fruit from obscurity.A legend has emerged around the dragon fruit which only serves to enhance its exotic and colourful characteristics.

According to the legend the fruit was created thousands of years ago by fire breathing dragons. During a battle when the dragon breathed fire the last thing to emerge would be the fruit. When the dragon was slain the fruit was collected by the victorious soldiers and presented to the Emperor as a coveted treasure.

The soldiers would then butcher the dragon and eat the flesh. It was believed that those who feasted on the flesh would be endowed with the strength and ferocity of the dragon and that they too would be coveted by the Emperor.

It could be that the story came into popular folklore when the pitaya was first introduced into Asia from South America as a way of making this new and strange looking fruit their own.However it happened the legend of the dragon fruit certainly adds to the marketing story of this amazing natural ingredient.

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