Why you should care
Because this frozen treat is what’s for lunch. And possibly dinner too.
Good morning, Hawaii. I just did yoga and I’m starving. Before you roll your eyes, I did all those downward-facing dogs against my will and now I’m in the market for a treat that will clear my mind of ommm. So my boyfriend and I — at this point I’m so grumpy that I’m surprised he hasn’t told me to get lost — walk over to the local shop because I have to get an acai bowl this very minute. Now you can roll your eyes.
But when we arrive, there’s a new blended, frozen fruit treat on the menu. This one is hot pink with barely-there black seed speckles — the pink is so neon you might think it’s artificial rather than au naturel. But this fruit, the store owner tells me, isn’t pasteurized, unlike the acai. Boom, I’m sold. A few minutes and an iced-coffee caffeine kick later, my breakfast bowl arrives. It’s a tropical feast in a bowl. The base is blended pitaya, also known as dragon fruit, and it’s topped with bits of pineapple, mango and passion fruit. There are also crunchy granola crumbles and coconut flakes sprinkled on top, with a drizzle of honey. One bite in, I’ve found a new icy love. Sorry, acai, nice knowin’ ya.
Pitaya, with its fuchsia peel and firm, neon-green-tipped leaflike extensions, looks kind of like a tropical fruit from another planet. ”It’s a flaming-pink artichoke that’s hard to miss,” says Chuck Casano, co-founder of Pitaya Plus, which imports frozen pitaya mixture from Nicaragua. The fruit grows on climbing cactuses, likely native to Mexico, then transplanted further afield to South America, and later brought to Asia, allegedly by missionaries. Today, the fruit is cultivated around the world, from Israel to Hawaii, but it’s most common in markets around Southeast Asia and South America, where the flavor is supposedly a bit better than that of the stateside varieties. “It’s touted as a superfood, but it’s pretty tasteless here. It’s pretty similar to cucumber,” says Corbin Chu, a 23-year-old Los Angeles resident. The dragon fruit he tried back in Thailand, Chu says “is reminiscent of kiwi” in texture and “very general light sweetness” in taste. Others describe the flavor as being like watermelon, bland at worst, sweet and juicy at best. In my opinion? Perfectly tart when blended.
In the dragon fruit’s native lands, pollination of the finicky fruit happens after dark, courtesy of bats and moths. In the U.S., pollination is far more labor-intensive: It’s done by hand. Even still, pitaya has gained popularity in recent years, in part because the pink innards (there’s also a lesser-used white variety) pack a health punch. It’s relatively low in sugar — 8 grams in one piece, compared with 14 grams in a banana of similar weight — and contains prebiotics and magnesium, which are usually found in dark leafy greens, legumes and grains, not fruit. It also doesn’t hurt that the fruit is electric pink when blended. “We joke that if this food were brown, we’d be broke,” says Casano. Since he started importing pitaya, Casano says, demand has skyrocketed, and the fruit has practically sold itself on social media. He saw acai and coconut water blowing up on the trendy-food scene and thought, “Where’s my pitaya?”