Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Dragon Fruit and The Dragon Lady

The first time I saw a dragon fruit was at a sidewalk produce stall in Binondo, Manila.  I was stunned by its fierce appearance of vibrant colors and highly unusual shape. Also known as pitaya, the taste of it, I was told, is slightly similar to kiwi or melon.

The dragon plant is a vine, believed to be native of Central and Southern America that has been brought to Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Vietnam. Dragon plant has fleshy stems that grow up to 20 feet when matured. It may grow from the ground or climb onto trees using aerial roots, and it has spines that grow up to 1 kilogram in weight.   It bears flowers that only bloom at night. The flowers are ornate and beautiful with fragrant scent.

Pitaya plants can have up to 4-6 fruiting cycles per year.  The fruit’s skin may be yellowish to dark red in color with edible flesh that maybe white or red depending on the variety. It has a lot of black small seeds that is also edible.

Dragon fruit is also known to have some health benefits such as:

- boosts immune system. Dragon fruit is rich in vitamin C and fibers that help provide an overall healthy body.

- helps in digestion because of its rich fiber content. 

- helps to lower blood glucose levels in type 2 diabetes.

- prevents formation of cancer causing free radicals. 

- as anti-oxidant, the presence of high level of vitamin C, minerals and pythoalbumin is regarded as relevant in fighting free radicals and possess anti-oxidant properties.

- helps to control cholesterol level. Dragon fruit is also rich in flavonoids that are known to have favorable effects against cardio related disease.

- promotes healing of wounds and cuts.

- improves appetite.

- improves eye sight

- aids in weight reduction

- improves memory

The photo on top and the one right below I took in Subic last August.  Surprisingly, a number of farms in Zambales have been growing dragon fruits exclusively.  Some enterprising local folks buy a bunch from these farms and then resell them along the highway for 100 pesos per kilo.  And business is good, I was told.

The Dragon Lady: Editha Dacuycuy

Thanks to a daughter afflicted with cerebral palsy, Editha Dacuycuy, 53, discovered the wonders of dragon fruit, a vine-like cactus species that bears pear-shaped fruits that have a sweetish white or bright pink flesh. Pitaya or pitihaya, as the fruit is known locally, also has healing properties, Dacuycuy found out.

Dragon fruit is popular in South America and is also being cultivated in Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan and, recently, in Burgos, Ilocos Norte, in northern Philippines.

Four years ago, Dacuycuy was on the lookout for alternative medication that could cure her daughter's frequent constipation, a common problem among cerebral palsy patients. A friend gave her some dragon fruit from Macau which, this mother found out, proved effective in inducing regular bowel movement. Dacuycuy, a former manager of an insurance company and a psychology graduate of the University of the Philippines, found herself browsing the Internet to learn more about this exotic fruit. The dragon fruit, she found out, was also known as a cleansing fruit in South America.

She also learned that according to physicians and nutrition experts, the dragon fruit is rich in fiber that helps in the elimination of wastes, and that it contains high levels of vitamin C, calcium and phosphorous. Its other nutritional benefits include high levels of antioxidants that can help prevent cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, rheumatism and urinary tract infection.

These findings led Dacuycuy to search for dragon fruit seedlings. To her surprise, she discovered that some of her friends have dragon fruit planted in their garden. However, they didn't realize its fruit was edible, since they had mistakenly thought it was just an ordinary cactus plant.

They consider it ornamental, and they plant it because they love its flowers, she said.
From single cuttings she got from friends, Dacuycuy managed to propagate the plant until they bore fruit several months after. Encouraged, she sent a daughter to Thailand to learn how to care for the plant, and later consulted the Deaprtment of Agriculture in her municipality on the proper management of her dragon fruit farm, the first in Region I in northern Philippines.

Dacuycuy's dragon fruit farm now covers five hectares in Barangay (village) Paayas, Burgos, Ilocos Norte. From a single variety, she has managed to grow at least five other varieties, with flesh of varied colors: dark pink, light pink, red, white and yellow. She has five regular helpers, mostly women, who do the potting, cleaning and watering of the plants. From May to November, the fruit season, she also hires other laborers to help harvest the fruits and deliver them to local markets, where they are sold at about P150 per kilo.

At first, people wondered about the strange fruit and how it could be eaten. (Just slice the fruit and scoop out the juicy flesh, filled with tiny seeds that could also be eaten.) Soon enough, however, they've been using it for relief of various ailments. Marieta Rivera, 49, a diabetic, said she has been eating dragon fruit regularly to maintain her sugar level.

Dacuycuy added that aside from being eaten raw, the dragon fruit is highly economical: Nothing is wasted because its pulp and flowers can also be cooked as vegetable (plain or as salad) and used as garnish in either fish or meat recipes like sinigang (sour soup), sweet meat and bulalo (boiled beef shank).

The dried flowers of the dragon fruit can be cut into pieces and cooked as lumpiang shanghai or burger patties. You may also add some carrots or meat seasoning to taste, said Dacuycuy. But don't throw the pulp skin, she added, because this can also be cooked as jam or jelly or boiled as tea.

Because she believes in the health benefits of dragon fruit, Dacuycuy makes sure that the fruit is grown organically in her farm.

Read more here.

See Ms. Dacuycuy's farm here.

Photo: McGee Productions

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I very much appreciate my articles and photos appearing on fellow bloggers' sites, popular broadsheets, and local broadcast news segments, but I would appreciate even more a request for permission first.
Thank you!



  1. I have seen this fruit even here in the US and I like to try it but nobody teach me how to eat it so I didn't dare ^_^


  2. very pretty....dragon fruit looks yummy too :-) I love fruits and cannot wait to try the dragon fruit too :-) Visiting from Yummy Sunday, hope that you can return the visit too.


  3. love dragon fruit shake ... interesting fact about dragon fruit :)

  4. This one is unique. Haven't seen one though and I have to thank you for the info, here's my entry for YS. Sahm’s Dining Diary, thanks!

  5. thanks for sharing. Now I know what's the inside of the dragon fruit. :-)

  6. many said this one makes a really delicious shake..

    ..dropping by, from YS. Crystal Cake is my entry.. ;D

  7. i learned to eat this back in cambodia but like you i first saw this in binondo/divisoria area. its like everyday fruit in cambodia, for us and always in our grocery list! and thanks for this great info! i am happy that my kids loves to eat dragonfruit. visiting late from YS, hope you can visit me back. thanks and have a great weekend. :)