The world of the pitahaya, the dragon fruit

Without a doubt, the yellow dragon fruit is the best in the world and is produced by Ecuador. Whether in Morona Santiago, Pastaza, Los Ríos or Guayas, the product has gained worldwide recognition, not only for its unbeatable taste so far, but also for its laxative and vitaminic power (antioxidants, fibers, vitamin C).

Everything you need to know about the pitaya or dragon fruit. Photo: Pixabay
Everything you need to know about the pitaya or dragon fruit. Photo: Pixabay

But today it also suffers from a powerful problem: excess supply. The coronavirus, which affects the world, only anticipated what the exporters saw coming and warned of it, the excess supply, added to a concentrated demand in Hong Kong and the United States.

And with no space to find other niches where sanitary barriers can be more than the management of an official sector when at the beginning of the month it took him by surprise, it was Diario EXPRESO that gave the warning voice and awakened the concern of the Minister of Agriculture, Xavier Lazo, the National Financial Corporation (CFN) and BanEcuador.

Now it has too many defenders, it lacks strategies.

There are three kinds of pitahaya: the yellow one, the red one that is blooming on the Ecuadorian coast, and a wild beet red one that is beginning to be analyzed commercially.

"We calculate that there are 3,000 hectares of pitahaya between yellow and red," says exporter Sebastián Bustamante, who produces in Isidro Ayora (Guayas) and in Mocache (Los Ríos). The reference, because there are no official data, is an annual production of 12,000 to 15,000 kilos per hectare, that is, 45 million kilos. But 7 million are officially exported. And they go to Hong Kong, the United States, and some to Europe and Canada.

The rest? It's sold locally, but it goes irregularly to Peru and Colombia, and it's even been detected that it goes to Chile from there; but it's the Asian consumer who is most in demand, wherever he lives, which is why it's sold in Chinese-based shops in the United States.

Official data from the Central Bank of Ecuador show a fairly significant annual export figure of US$45 million. They place the dragon fruit as the second most exported fruit after bananas and plantains, but above the mango, which it displaced in a very short time. And if we add another $35 million which, in the eyes of a good Cuban, would leave exports to Peru and Colombia, the total business of this labor-intensive sector would be $80 million (or more).

Bustamante is serious about the fact that they need a negotiator who can break down the barriers put up by our neighbors and also China, with whom there is a huge trade deficit, which every year gets bigger and bleeds the dollars.

Guido Alvarez, president of the Association of Pastaza Pitaya Producers, and who gave the voice of alert, believes that there must be as a challenge to the Government, a plan to strengthen the sector, because the red pitaya already proliferates at a pace of entertainment.

The priority is to open the markets, just because many people already live from the crop, but because the cost of exporting to Hong Kong is high: 8 dollars per box and 4 days of travel by plane. The trip to the United States is by boat and lasts 7 days, after which, or at the same time, it is necessary to investigate, since it is a new crop that is being discovered by the export sector.

And because there are agricultural practices that undermine quality: recently a shipment of Palora was burned due to an excess of a chemical product that accelerates the maturation process, since some producers want to leave earlier to get a better price, for example, there is no detailed scientific evidence of how the pitaya behaves according to where it is planted. In Palora it is harvested 120 or 140 days after flowering; in Guayas 110 or 120 days and about 50 fruits per plant.

Pitaya: properties, benefits and nutritional value

The pitaya, also known as the dragon fruit, is a fruit native to Central America. It is oval in shape, with thorns on the outside and three varieties can be found: yellow on the outside and white pulp with seeds on the inside, red on the outside and white pulp or red pulp with seeds on the inside. It is very aromatic and its flavor is very sweet and pleasant.

Dragon fruit colors. Photo: Wikimedia
Dragon fruit colors. Photo: Wikimedia

The pitaya is a treasure from the nutritional point of view, it contains antioxidants, mucilage, ascorbic acid, phenols. It is rich in Vitamin C, it also contains B vitamins, minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, iron, and it has high water content and has vegetable protein and soluble fiber. The seeds, which are edible, contain beneficial fatty acids. And one of its most outstanding properties is its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant action, which is why the WHO recommends its consumption.

Despite its peculiar appearance, the pitaya is eaten like any other fruit. It is cut in half and the pulp is spooned out, and the seeds are also eaten. It can be incorporated into the preparation of smoothies, ice cream, and cakes, and is also used to make jams and compotes.

Nutritional value per 100 grams

- Calories 54

- Water 84,40 %.

- Carbohydrates 13.20 g

- Protein 1,4 g.

- Total fat 0,40 g.

- Fibre 0,5 g.

- Vitamin C 8mg.

- Calcium 10mg.

- Iron 1,3 mg.

- Phosphorus 26 mg.

Properties and benefits

- Delays cellular aging.

- Strengthens the immune system by stimulating the production of white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets

- It has an anti-inflammatory effect.

- It helps us to regulate the intestinal transit, and its seeds have a laxative effect.

- It helps us prevent kidney stones.

- It regulates the level of sugar in the blood.

- Stimulates the production of collagen.

- It improves the absorption of iron (essential to avoid or fight iron deficiency anemia).

- Excellent for the formation of bones and teeth.

- As it is rich in water and low in carbohydrates, it is excellent for people on weight loss diets.

Pitaya and Pitahaya: aren't they the same, but they are the same?

We often confuse these fruits. In some cases, they are thought to be the same, but there are differences between the two that make them very particular, even though the similarities in the name do not allow us to distinguish them so easily.

Dragon fruit thorns: Pitaya and pitahaya are not the same, but they are equally rich and nutritious. Image by Rattakarn_ from Pixabay
Dragon fruit thorns: Pitaya and pitahaya are not the same, but they are equally rich and nutritious. Image by Rattakarn_ from Pixabay

What do they have in common?

The pitaya and the pitahaya are considered exotic; they are grown both as ornamental plants and for harvesting the fruit and they produce beautiful flowers. Both come from Central America and Mexico, and belong to the Cactaceae family.

The pitaya and pitahaya contain nutritional properties in terms of vitamins C, B (B1 or thiamine, B3 or niacin, and B2 or rivoflavin), potassium, iron, calcium, and phosphorus, in addition to being low in calories and helping digestion by being rich in fiber.

What is the difference?

Their main difference lies in the gender they belong to. The pitaya comes from the genus Stenocereus, while the pitahaya is from the Hylocereus.

Spines are also a distinguishing feature; even though the pitahaya comes from a cactus, it has no spines.

If you are a fan of cactus, you will know that they give the most beautiful flowers. The flower of these fruits is white and fragrant, nocturnal and lasts only one night. In particular, the flower of the pitahaya is the largest of all cactuses.

The word pitahaya is of Antillean origin and means scaly fruit, its fruit is ovoid, round and elongated, with red, white or yellow flesh and small black seeds; its taste is less sweet than that of the pitaya.

The growth habit of the pitahaya is climbing, so it is internationally known as the fruit of the dragon or Thanh Long, of Vietnamese origin, and that is due to the fact that the plant that produces it climbs on the trunks of the trees and intertwines giving the shape to the body of a dragon, a mythological animal very popular in Asia, mainly in China.

The name of the pitaya is given to the fruit that is covered with thorns; its fruit is ovoid and semi-rounded, with white, red, yellow, purple and red-violet flesh and a large number of black seeds (just like the pitahaya). Its taste is very sweet and its growth habit is columnar cactus (organ).

Production in Mexico of pitaya and pitahaya

According to the Agrifood and Fisheries Information Service (SIAP), the following figures were presented during 2016:

Pitaya: the main producers of this fruit are Oaxaca, Jalisco, and Puebla, who sowed more than 97% of the total area, highlighting Oaxaca as the main producer with 42.9% of the total. The value of production was recorded in 68.38 million pesos.

Pitahaya: generated in 2016 a production value of $59.62 million pesos. It is produced in Quintana Roo, Yucatan and Puebla, highlighting Yucatan with 68.2% of production. In the period reported 4,158 tons were obtained at a rural average price of $14,342 per ton.

By Mexicanist