Dragon fruit: Beautiful, bland and attracts buyers with money

It may be the most gorgeous fruit in the world — red, purple and fuschia with golden prongs

In Summary

• Too bad the white or red flesh with tiny black seeds is virtually tasteless, or rather extremely subtle, through it has health benefits . 

• They can grow to be six inches long, looking like a dragon's scales, beloved more by interior decorators.

Dragon Fruit
Dragon Fruit

When the fire-breathing dragon lost the battle for control of the world, it spat out red, purple and golden fruit that were taken to the emperor as proof of victory.

These dragon fruits look like mysterious mythical fruits from a video game. And you can eat them.

Unfortunately, the taste isn't as magnificent as the red, pink, yellow or purple peel. Interior decorators love them, especially as they can grow to six luminous inches and dominate a room. Christmas ornament from the dragon.

But down to more mundane information. It grows on cactus-like vines and originated in Central America and Asia. And it's drought-tolerant and very profitable as it's so exotic..

Farming of the dragon fruit is new in Kenya and relatively few farmers grow it. It can be found in some supermarkets, especially those in Asian communities.

During a recent farmers’ field day by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation, the Star talked to Monicah Waiganjo. She has been promoting the dragon fruit, which she called a super fruit.

She said once she tasted the fruit, she wanted to know more about it and started doing exhaustive research.

Dr Monicah Waiganjo, a horticultural crops specialist, is promoting dragon fruit, which she says is new in Kenya,
ORNAMENTAL: Dr Monicah Waiganjo, a horticultural crops specialist, is promoting dragon fruit, which she says is new in Kenya,

“I visited farms around Naivasha, Makuyu, Meru and recently in Ukambani area of Yatta subcounty where the fruit is being grown. I then ventured into growing the crop, and also learning about it so I could encourage farmers to grow it."

The agriculturist said studies show dragon fruit is highly desirable, yet Kenya imports it from South Africa, Vietnam and Israel.

“This is probably why the fruit is expensive. One fruit costs between Sh800 to Sh2,000 depending on where one is buying from and the size.

"More farmers growing the fruit will reduce the price and we can venture into the export market if we have more volume."

She said the fruit originated  in Mexico and Costa Rica.

It can help bring down chronic diseases like hypertension

Waiganjo said the dragon fruit is drought-tolerant and it is not soil specific and can grow well in acidic soils in any part of the country. It can tolerate acidity of 5 to 6.5pH. 

They grow best in well-draining soils that are high in organic matter.

She said you can plant the cuttings in a bucket if you live in a small residential area. From one acre, a farmer can make almost Sh2 million in a year, from two harvests.

“Dragon fruit farming has great potential in the country since it adapts well to the local climate with high temperatures and it consumes little water.

"Local and global market trends show an ever increasing demand for new, healthy exotic fruits,” Waijango said.

She said globally, the fruit is appreciated as a super fruit for its health benefits, high nutritional value and other nutraceutical benefits.

“Apart from the domestic market, there is a great potential for exports of this new fruit to the traditional market destinations like the European Union as well as new ones like the Gulf and USA,” Waiganjo said.

She explained that the fruit can be used to make juices, jam, sherbets, wines, syrup, flavourings and medicine.

“The flower buds and fruit peels can be used to make soups. One can also make a very fragrant and refreshing cup of tea from the flowers and roots,” she said.

Like many other fruits, the dragon fruit has medicinal benefits and a lot of people have trust and depend on it.

She said currently, Kenya imports 99 percent of the dragon fruits from Vietnam and South Africa.

Waiganjo said dragon fruit farming is profitable and should be encouraged as an ideal climate-smart crop for the domestic and export market.

Research organisations and entrepreneurs should engage in dragon fruit value chain research and development to realise its enormous economic potential and health benefits.

The dragon fruit is a cactus vine.The fruit is commercially grown in Israel, Australia, USA, Mexico, Asia, South Africa and it has recently started being cultivated in Kenya.

There are three types of dragon fruit. They include the red-colour fruit with white flesh, red-colour fruit with red-flesh and the yellow-colour fruit with white flesh.

“Dragon fruit is high in nutrition. It is low in calories but packed with essential vitamins and minerals. The fruit contains the antioxidants vitamin C, beta-carotene, lycopene and beta-lain. Studies have linked diets high in antioxidants to a reduced risk of chronic disease,” she said.

Waiganjo said the fruit is loaded with fiber and it offers seven grams of fiber per serving, making it an excellent choice for meeting your daily fiber needs.

The dragon fruits also strengthen the immune system as the high supply of vitamin C and carotenoids may offer immune-boosting properties.

“The dragon fruit also boosts low iron levels as it is one of the few fresh fruits that contain iron. The fruit supplies iron along with vitamin C, a combination that may improve your body’s absorption of this important mineral. The dragon fruit is a great source of magnesium, a nutrient needed for over 600 biochemical reactions in your body,” she said.

(Edited by V. Graham)

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