In my previous blog, I remarked that the hairy red rambutan strikes many people as strange-looking. But rambutan is small. Something else in the farmers’ markets is stranger, and bigger! It looks like something out of science-fiction — an alien man-eating flower-bud. Even the name is fantastic: dragon fruit.
But oh, is it delicious!
It grows from a cactus – Hylocereus undatus – the Latin name showing its family resemblance to the ornamental Night-Blooming (and
night-fragrant) Cereus. On the Big Island, dragon fruit is cultivated in Kona, whose microclimate is much like that of Honolulu (where a famously extensive Night-Blooming Cereus adorns a lava-stone wall along Punahou
Dragon fruit apparently originated in South America, and is now extremely popular in China and southeast Asia; it’s also cultivated in Mexico, Texas and Israel. A summertime treat here, it’s easy to spot at the Wednesday and Saturday Farmers’ Market on Kam Avenue in Hilo, and at the Saturday Farmers’ Market in the Keauhou (Kona) shopping center.
The dragon fruit’s red, scaly exterior may be off-putting, but appearance is only skin-deep. A thin, easily peeled rind surrounds a sweet flesh that’s either dark red and sweeter, or gray-green and firmer. Hundreds of very tiny seeds are embedded in the fruit; like strawberry seeds, they go down practically unnoticed. The taste is watermelon- or kiwi-like, but (not surprisingly) most like the fruit of prickly-pear cactus.
Chill dragon fruit for the best texture and flavor; in a plastic bag, it will keep for a week in the refrigerator. You can cut the whole fruit in half and dig in with a spoon. You can peel it and slice it into bite-size chunks. And you can delight your next dinner guests by serving a palate-cleanser, between courses, of a small scoop of dragon fruit.