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Everything You Need to Know About Dragonfruit

Good things come from prickly plants -- like tequila, nopales, and dragonfruit.
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Every week on Food52 we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.

Today: We're taking a tropical staycation in our kitchen and exploring exotic fruits. Next up, pitayas.

Good things come from prickly plants -- like tequila, nopales, and dragon fruit. (Dragon fruit's proper name is pitaya, but its mythical creature-inspired name is more popular.) The pitaya plant is a climbing cactus, and the plant’s flower is impressive -- not only visually, but also with the brief window it provides for pollination. The flower opens in the evening, ready for bats, moths, or hand-pollination, and by morning it wilts. (Some varieties are self-pollinating, but that’s much less exciting than a pollination race against time.)

More: Think that’s high-maintenance? Meet endive.

You’re most likely to come across dragon fruit with a pink peel (4), green scales (3), and white flesh (1) that’s studded with tiny edible black seeds (2), similar to kiwifruit. Other varieties have pink or deep magenta-colored flesh, or white flesh with a yellow peel. We wouldn’t say that the dragon fruit is just blowing smoke, but it does look far more dramatic than it tastes. Another one of one of pitaya’s monikers -- strawberry pear -- gives a hint to the fruit’s flavor: a delicate berry, watermelon, kiwi, and pear blend.

Peak dragon fruit season is in the summer and early fall, but thanks to different growing locations and off-season production techniques (like tricking the plant with supplemental lighting), it’s possible to find dragon fruit close to year-round. Visit a specialty grocery store, or your local farmers market if you have the good fortune of living where they're grown. The fruit will keep on the counter for a few days; if you want to keep it longer than that, store it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Dragon fruit is easy to prep -- just cut the fruit into quarters or slices, and peel off the skin. It's often used as a garnish, or in fruit salads, but it works in savory salads and pairs well with seafood too. Try using dragon fruit in a smoothie or a cocktail. Pitayas can be used to make jam, ice cream, and all manner of other desserts. We're partial to simply slicing it in half and scooping out the flesh (5) with a spoon (like slooping!) -- couch and cheesy romantic comedy optional, but highly encouraged.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy dragon fruit? Tell us in the comments!

Photos by James Ransom

This article originally appeared on Everything You Need to Know About Dragonfruit

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