There are many unusual fruits grown in Sri Lanka, such as the prickly rambutan – a red, plum-sized tropical fruit tasting like a lychee – and the green, spiky durian with its fetid smell but creamy pulp of robust deliciousness once its shell is opened. Less challenging to eat, and with no off-putting odour and much milder in taste, is the Dragon Fruit.
I first tasted dragon fruit a few years ago when it was presented as part of the complimentary fruit platter in an expensive hotel in the Maldives. I’d never seen one before and wasn’t sure how to eat it. It was dark crimson in colour with knobbly green bits like petals folding out of it. The outside was leathery in texture but yielded easily as I sliced into it with a sharp knife. I cut it in half, lengthways, to see it was packed with a firm flesh of a watery texture flecked with black seeds.
I used a spoon to scoop up some of the flesh and tasted it gingerly. I needn’t have worried, the flesh is refreshing but bland. But on later acquaintance I have grown to like the zesty flavour of the fruit and the crunch of the black seeds as I devour it. It is strangely filling, one half of a 300g fruit is enough for a dessert or breakfast fruit.
I was told the fruit was imported from Thailand so when I saw dragon fruits on sale in my local supermarket in Sri Lanka, I was surprised to learn that they are now grown here commercially. In fact, only last month I saw what looked like cactus growing up the concrete posts of a fence surrounding the Coconut Board property bordering a road in Passikudah. My driver explained it was not cactus but dragon fruit.
My curiosity to know more about the fruit was stirred by the notice at the supermarket that claimed dragon fruit is useful for controlling cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, as well as being rich in vitamins B and C and other wholesome qualities. Selling at around Rs100 each, it is good for the pocket as well as for health.
Dragon fruit (Hylocereus undatus) comes in three colours in Sri Lanka. The most common has a crimson skin and a flesh the colour of a limpid moonstone, while its brother dragon fruit has a dark pink flesh to match its crimson skin. A third variety has a yellow, knobbly skin and flesh the colour of old parchment flecked with black ink (the seeds). The fruit grows on spiky stems, beginning as green buds and then blushing to red (or yellow) while ripening. Fruits have to be plucked within four days of ripening so they can be enjoyed fresh, although they remain edible for several days after picking.
Apparently the fruit can be grown in many places in Sri Lanka because of the salubrious climate, although it doesn’t thrive if over-watered. I’ve grown to like it so much (especially to cool the palate after a hot curry), I’m looking for cuttings to start a dragon fruit patch in my own garden.
Royston Ellis (www.roystonellis.com) is a British author resident in Sri Lanka since 1980