Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dragon fruit (pitaya)

Hylocereus costaricensis or purple-flesh dragon fruit (a kind of cactus) is a popular but expensive fruit in Kuching. It is much more expensive compared to the less-popular white-flesh dragon fruit (Hylocereus undatus). By the way, it is never referred to as pitaya here, at least I’ve never heard of anyone calling it that.

So why's it called dragon fruit? I believe because in Chinese, it's known as loong zhu kuo, or dragon pearl fruit. What's up with dragons and pearls? It's Chinese mythology, google it. :-D

dragon fruit 3
This is the closest color to the real flesh I can get my digital camera to produce without major tweaking. I find many digital cameras have trouble recording accurate shades of reds and purple and sometimes blue as well. For this picture, I set the camera white balance to “sunlight”. While the flesh color is much closer to the real thing in this mode, everything else around it is the wrong hue.

A kilo of the purple-red flesh variety can be anywhere between RM7 to RM10 in the Kuching markets. The white flesh variety on the other hand, can be had for as little as 99 sen (RM0.99) each. Many of the white variety sold in Kuching are imported from Vietnam. A normal sized dragon fruit of the purple-red variety can weigh anywhere between 300 grams to 400 grams so a single large fruit can cost nearly RM5.

I definitely prefer the purple-red flesh fruit because it’s much juicier and sweeter and tastes terrific when eaten chilled. All you have to do is slice the fruit in two and scoop out the flesh with a spoon. It’s great juiced as well, served with crushed iced, yum!

dragon fruit 2
When photographed with a digital camera (AUTO settings), the color of the flesh is completely a different shade of red. The actual color is much closer to that bit of juice on the spoon, a purplish-red (come to think of it, why can’t the camera record that color for the flesh too huh?).

The plants are easy to cultivate and these days, it is not uncommon to see dragon fruit plants grown in nearly every neighborhood or village near Kuching.

They are epiphytic plants and produce fast growing scandent stems. These stems grow in sections and can be broken off and replanted to obtain new plants. We have a number growing in our backyard but they are a long way from producing their first fruits. They need a lot of sun as well to produce quality fruits.

I remember when the fruits (the white variety) first hit the Kuching market about a decade ago they were expensive and not really that tasty. Nobody really liked them and many soon turned up in supermarket bargain bins. Then came talk about them having anti-cancer properties blah blah blah (they do contain a kind of antioxidant but so do a lot of other fruits) and bang, they were back on the map. The arrival of the sweet and juicy red/purple flesh variety also helped make them popular.

Hope our plants reach maturity soon, can’t wait to start harvesting them!

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