The "pitaya" or "pitahaya" is an exotic fruit of refreshing and delicious taste, which has been eaten since pre-Columbian times. Its appearance is very unusual, with an irregular oval shape and bumpy skin.
It is also known as dragon fruit, and is native to Mexico and Central America. The pitahaya was discovered by the Spaniards; its name comes from the Taíno language spoken in the Greater Antilles, and means "scaly fruit".
In Peru, pitahaya grows in jungle regions such as Amazonas and San Martín; its cultivation has also been introduced in other parts of the country, including the Sierra de Piura and Chanchamayo (Junín). Production is mainly destined for the local market at present; however, there are potential markets in European countries such as France and Holland, as well as in the Asian market and North America (United States).
There are two varieties: red and yellow, the latter being the most in demand in the domestic market. Belonging to the family of cacti or succulents, the plant is very resistant to droughts.
The pitahaya is a fruit which is considered to have several nutritional benefits. It is a source of natural antioxidants, helping to reduce the proliferation of free radicals in our body that are responsible for the appearance of cancerous tumors and other serious diseases.
It contains vitamin C and prevents colds and flu. Also noteworthy among its properties is its captina content, a substance that works to naturally invigorate the heart and helps to relax the nervous system. It also has riboflavin (vitamin B2), vital for the production of red blood cells.
According to Claudia Dávila, a nutritionist at a well-known Lima gym chain, one of the main benefits of pitahaya lies in its hydration power (more than 80% of the fruit is water). In addition, its calorie content is very low, since it contains almost no carbohydrates. Its composition includes minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium, which help to balance the body's electrolytes, especially after doing sport.
Dávila emphasizes that thanks to its high vitamin C content, it also increases collagen, which is important for the body because it is a major component of bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments. It also reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, helps combat cellular aging and strengthens the memory.
Rich in fiber and Omega-3
Jenny Garcia, a nutritionist at the SANNA clinic network, adds that the black seeds from the pitahaya contain a large amount of fiber, which helps improve bowel transit and prevent chronic constipation. These seeds are rich in Omega-3 fats, ideal for fighting some autoimmune diseases and preventing the appearance of certain types of cancers related to hormonal changes, such as breast, colon and prostate cancer.
Pitahaya leaves also contain important nutrients for our health. Consuming them in herbal tea helps combat migraines and insomnia.
Did you know?
- Scientists from the National Polytechnic Institute of Mexico have discovered that the pitahaya possesses chemical compounds capable of eliminating lung cancer cells in vitro.
- It is called "dragon fruit" due to the shape created by the intertwined trunks of trees or rocks, resembling the body of the dragon, a mythological animal in Asia. That's why the Vietnamese call it "Thanh Long", which means "the fruit of the dragon".
Sources: El Comercio/ Perú 21/ La Vanguardia/ informercado.pe/ vix.com/ agraria.pe/ pitahaya.info/ dspace.espol.edu.ec