red pitaya cut up on wooden board red pitaya cut up on wooden board The red flesh adds a pop of bright color and sweet flavor. (Photo: Myrosha/Shutterstock)

Introducing the pitaya, 2018's hot new superfruit

This sweet fruit, also known as dragon fruit, comes with a host of health benefits and is very easy to grow. So why hasn't anyone heard of it?

What's the superfruit that's about to be yanked from obscurity and into your smoothie, cocktail, salad and even salsa?

Let's hear it for the ... pitaya.

No, not papaya. PITAYA. You may have seen it before, in some grocery stores or farmers markets, labeled as dragon fruit. You may even have used it in a smoothie or cocktail or two.

dragon fruit smoothie Dragon fruit is a great smoothie ingredient. (Photo: Parinya Suwannagood / Shutterstock)

But what we bet you didn't know is that the pitaya, as it's known today, is actually a sweeter, red-fleshed version of dragon fruit, and it has a longer shelf life. And thanks to horticulturist Yossi Zaphrir of Top Eden Fruits in Israel, we might be seeing more of this vibrant produce in the coming months.

Making dragon fruit sweet again

Pitaya was the original name for this fruit when it began cultivation in the 19th century. It's now better known as dragon fruit. Pitaya was the original name for this fruit when it began cultivation in the 19th century. It's now better known as dragon fruit. (Photo: Ekaterina Kondratova/Shutterstock)

Zaphrir has been trying to popularize the red-fleshed pitaya, a cousin of the white-fleshed dragon fruit, from his farm in central Israel, for several years. He envisions a sort of "it" fruit status similar to that of the avocado or mango. “I remember that mangos were sort of unknown in the early 1980s," he told FreshPlaza.com, “and although there were some beautiful varieties, the taste wasn't there. So that's why I think the most important thing is to show that the pitaya from Israel has the best taste.”

He said there's a similar variety grown in Vietnam, but its flavor is lacking; Zaphrir's version is sweeter, redder and more durable. The difference in taste, he said, "is like night and day."

Selective breeding

Many fruits and vegetables you see on shelves today have been selectively bred to improve taste and qualityMany fruits and vegetables you see on shelves today have been selectively bred to improve taste and quality. (Photo: docter_k/Shutterstock)

New strains of pitaya have been developed using a technique called selective breeding, which is basically controlling the reproductive process of the plants to produce offspring with favorable characteristics. It's often confused with genetic engineering, but the two techniques are very different.

Genetic engineering involves a direct change to an organism’s genome in the laboratory, while selective breeding makes use of existing, naturally present gene variants in a certain species. It's simply a more controlled version of the natural breeding process.

Health benefits

Pitaya, often referred to as a superfruit, has been shown to potentially boost immunity, aid digestion, prevent cancer, boost metabolism and improve cardiovascular health. And there’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that it could help type 2 diabetics manage their blood sugar levels.

So whether you prefer the classic dragon fruit variety or its reddish-purple, sweeter cousin, the verdict is the same: this fruit should definitely be in your next smoothie bowl.

Healthy breakfast bowl: blueberry smoothie with banana, raspberry, pitaya, blackberry, almonds, sunflower and chia seeds This is the breakfast you'll keep coming back to: banana, raspberry, pitaya, blackberry, almonds, sunflower and chia seeds. (Photo: Ekaterina Kondratova)

MORE FROM THE GRAPEVINE:

Photos and SlideshowsPhotos and Slideshows

Related Topics: Food News, Healthy eating

Introducing the pitaya, 2018's hot new superfruit
This sweet dragon fruit comes with a host of health benefits and is very easy to grow. And its obscurity is about to change.