Dragon fruit | Pitaya – proven health benefits and uses

The scientific name of the dragon fruit or pitaya is Hylocereus undatus (Haw.) Britt. & Rose.  It is also known as Belle of the night, Strawberry pear, Queen-of-the-night cactus, Nightblooming cactus, Fire dragon fruit , Pitahaya, Red pitaya, and Nightblooming cereus.

Other names include

CHINESE: Huo long guo, Zun long guo.
FRENCH: Belle de nuit, Cierge-lezard, Pithaya roughe, Poire de chardon, Fruit de dragon.
GERMAN: Distelbrin, Echte stachebrin.
HAWAIIAN: Paniniokapunahou, Papipi pua, Panani o ka.
INDONESIAN: Buah naga.
PORTUGUESE: Cato-barse, Cardo-ananas.
SPANISH: Chaca, Chak-wob, Flor de caliz, Pitahaya, Reina de la noche, Zacamb.
SWEDISH: Distelbirn, Echtestachelbrin, Dachenfr skogskatus, Rud pitahaya.
VIETNAM: Thanh long.

Dragon fruit is a vining, terrestrial or epiphytic cactus with succulent three-winged, green stems, reaching up to 20 feet long. Wings are up to 50 millimeters wide with modulate margins, spine are 1 millimeter long. Plant may climb trees via aerial roots. Flowers are fragrant, white, up to 35 centimeters long, blooming at night. Fruit is round, red, pink or yellow, with prominent scales.




– Flowers yielded thirteen compounds: kaempferol (1), quercetin (2), isorhamnetin (3), kaempferol 3-O-alpha-L-arabinfuranoside (4), kaempferol 3-O-beta-D glucopyranoside (5), quercetin 3-O-ß-D-glucopyranoside (6), isorhamnetin 3-O-ß-D-glucopyranoside (7), kaempferol 3-O-beta-D-galactopyranoside (8), quercetin 3-O-ß-D-galactopyranoside (9), kaempferol 3-O-ß-D-rutinoside (10), isorhamnetin 3-O-ß-D-rutinoside (11), kaempferol 3-O-alpha-L-rhamopyranosyl-(1 –> 6)-ß-D-galactopyranoside (12), and isorhamnetin 3-O-alpha-L-rhamopyranosyl-(1 –> 6)-ß-D-galactopyranoside (13).

– Air-dried, powdered stems contain B-sitosterol.

– Phytochemical screening of white dragon fruit yielded triterpenoid, alkaloid, flavonoid, and saponin.

– Nutrient content per 100 g yields:

Water 87 g, protein 1.1g, fat 0.4 g, carbohydrates 11.0 g, fiber 3 g, vitamin B1 (thiamine) 0.04 mg, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) 0.05 mg, vitamin B3 (niacin) 0.16 mg, vitamin C (ascorbic acid) 20.5 mg, calcium 8.5 mg, iron 1.9 mg, phosphorus 22.5 mg.

– In proximate composition, mineral content and physiochemical property analysis of dragon fruit flower showed a high potassium content. One sample showed potassium 78.02 mg/g; with small amounts of sodium, 7.26 mg/g; calcium, 19.72 mg; magnesium, 11.87 mg; mg; iron, 0.02019 mg; copper,0.0153 mg; and zinc, 0.1404 mg/g.

Medicinal properties of  eating dragon fruit

– Rich in vitamin C, phosphorus and calcium.

– Studies have shown wound healing, antioxidant, antibacterial, antiproliferative properties.

Parts used

Fruit, stems, flowers, sap.

Edibility / Culinary

– Fruit is edible; refreshing, slightly sweet, with a similarity to Kiwi fruit.

– Eaten raw, as fresh fruit.

– Used in fruit salads.

– Can be processed into various products such as: juices, sherbets, jam, syrup, ice cream, yogurt, jelly, candy and pastries.

– Flower buds can be used to make soup or mixed in salads; also, eaten as vegetable.

– Tea sometimes made from the flowers.

Folkloric traditional uses 

– Red fruit used to prevent colon cancer, for diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

– Sap of stems used as vermifuge, but said to be caustic and hazardous.

Other uses

• Coloring: Red and pink pulp can be source of food coloring agent.

Scientific proven health benefits and uses of dragon fruit or pitaya

• Wound Healing:

In streptozotocin diabetic rats, where wound healing is delayed, topical applications of H. undatus showed wound healing effects with increases in hydroxyproline, tensile strength, total proteins, DNA collagen content and better epithelization.

Antioxidant / Decrease Aortic Stiffness:

Study of the aqueous extract of the fruit pulp of H. undatus in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats showed it was effective in controlling oxidative damage and decreasing aortic stiffness.

Betacyanins / Food Coloring:

Study indicate an immense potential for development of natural food colorants from the fruit peel of Dragon fruit, with a longer shelf life than that of beet juice.

Antioxidant / Flowers:

Study evaluated the antioxidant activity and mechanisms of flower of Hylocereus undatus. The antioxidant activity seems attributable to total phenolics, mainly total flavonoids, with kaempferol as one of the main bioactive components. Antioxidant activity was effected through metal chelation and radical scavenging.

Antibacterial / Peels:

Study evaluated the antibacterial activity of various extracts of Hylocereus polyrhizus (red flesh pitaya) and Hylocereus undatus (while flesh pitaya) peels against pathogens. The chloroform extracts of peels exhibited the most potent antibacterial activity with inhibition of almost all pathogens.

Antioxidant / Fruit:

Study of white dragon fruit yielded triterpenoid, alkaloid, flavonoid, and saponin. The methanolic extract showed strong antioxidant activity.

Cytotoxic Activity / Cervical Cancer:

Study evaluated the antiproliferative activity of H. undatus extract on cervix cancer cell line HeLa (PVH-18). Results showed the capacity of Hylocereus undatus compounds to diminish cell cell survival of cervix cancer cells in vitro and in vivo.

Fruit Yogurt:

Study showed dragon fruit can be effectively used for making set fruit yogurts. High sensory properties observed were 10% dragon fruit juice, 10% sugar and 0.8% gelatin. Developed product yielded 23.58% total solids, 9.64% solid non-fat, and 3.2% fat, with a 15-day storage under refrigeration conditions.

Inhibition of Salmonella typhimurium / Fruit Extract: Study evaluated the inhibitory effect of Hylocereus undatus fruit extract against Salmonella typhimurium grown on Salmonella-Shigella agar. Findings showed inhibition of growth of Salmonella, with no inhibition of Shigella.

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