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Enter the dragon fruit, sweet delight of Limpopo

TGIFOOD

PRETTY CACTUS

Enter the dragon fruit, sweet delight of Limpopo

This dragon fruit salsa combines the sweetness of dragon fruit with the fire of chilli. (Photo: Supplied)

The gorgeous dragon fruit became the culinary darling of lockdown in Vietnam, but few South Africans seem to know it. Yet, a sweet new generation of this superfood is being grown in the gorgeous reaches of the Grootbosch Valley near Tzaneen in Limpopo.

The dragon fruit, also known as pitaya, is a wonder and a marvel. It’s a cactus, without needles, that likes the tropics and subtropics. The fruit looks like a small pink armadillo, with fleshy scales that are said to resemble a mythological fearsome fire-breathing dragon. The flesh is firm like a kiwi fruit, with hundreds of specks of tiny black seeds, the fruit colour ranges from creamy white and pale pink to cerise and burgundy. It’s drop dead sexy. 

The dragon fruit is huge – meaning commercially grown, widely eaten and much loved – in South East Asia, southern China and South America. It became a culinary symbol of Vietnam’s tenacity and efficacy in handling the pandemic in 2020. Weeks into cross border trade being closed to China, tons of Vietnam’s dragon fruit faced going rotten, when famed Saigon baker Kao Sieu Luc of ABC Bakery, came up with the idea of using the unsold fruit in their bread to create a new national taste. 

Luc apparently perfected his recipe for dragon fruit bread by replacing 60% of the water used in making the dough with a dragon fruit smoothie. The result was bread that was deliciously pink when unbaked, and a darker pink when baked, with a natural fragrance and a crunchy crust. Luc shared his recipe publicly, it went viral on YouTube, sparked a pink-baked goods revolution – and he then sold his dragon fruit bread to giant fast-food enterprise KFC, who debuted their dragon fruit burger – a chicken burger in a pink bun. It was on sale at selected outlets, and has since evolved into more pink baked offerings. 

ABC went from producing 300 loaves of bread on its launch day in February 2020 to making about 20,000 loaves daily due to overwhelming demand. By March 2020, ABC Bakery had gone through more than 30 metric tons of dragon fruit. 

​​It’s a long way from any Saigon KFC to Politsi near Tzaneen, and at this stage, South Africa only has a few hundred hectares under dragon fruit production. But there’s great potential for this sexy little fruit in South Africa – and it leads down a gentle country road through forests, past farmlands and rivers to the magnificent Amorentia Estate and Nursery, home of the trademarked Amorentia Sweet Dragon Fruit.

Amorentia is one of the country’s largest exporters of macadamia trees, they also propagate avocado trees as well as azaleas, camellias and other ornamentals, plus bonsais. www.amorentia.co.za

“We are producing a new generation of deliciously sweet, red, pink and white fleshed fruit,” says Howard Blight, owner of Amorentia Nursery. A farmer and businessman, Blight first introduced dragon fruit to the area about six years ago. The fruit was “bred” in the USA, says Blight and imported, and now they are being grown, not only at Amorentia, but also in other parts of the country, for the Amorentia brand.

Dragon fruit are super healthy, says Lauren Strever, Howard’s daughter and sweet dragon fruit brand ambassador. Giant pink ceramic dragon fruits guard the doors to her office, where they are in the throes of finalising a dragon fruit cookbook. If you’re in any doubt about how gorgeous dragon fruit is, just check them out on their website or Instagram/Facebook page.

The Amorentia Sweet dragon fruit cultivars are sweeter than the traditional dragon fruit, says Lauren, but with more zing and a crunchier texture. The fruit looks the same on the outside, but the inside flesh ranges in colour from creamy white to cerise, with evocative names like Sweet Azalea, Sweet Ballet, Sweet Coral and Sweet Fiery Kiss. Lauren says Amorentia is growing 10 cultivars that are not only fabulously psychedelic in colour, but are also so delicious and nutritious they’ve been declared a superfood.

This remarkable fruit has been shown to lower blood sugar levels and blood pressure, strengthen bones and teeth and promote healthy blood and tissue formation, strengthen the immune system, heal bruises and wounds faster, and help with respiratory problems. The fruit is rich in antioxidants, Vitamins B1, B2, B3 and C, polyunsaturated fatty acids, carotene, protein, calcium, iron and phosphorus.

There are loads of online recipes for dragon fruit bread, Chinese pink bread rolls and assorted baked goods including pink moon cakes. “The texture is so soft and fluffy, these stay soft even on the fourth day!” promises one YouTube offering. 

Apart from bread, the dragon fruit can be used in both sweet and savoury recipes. Slice it over an Asian salad for amazing visual effect, or chop it up into an avocado salad with pomegranates and toasted sesame seeds. Dragon fruit also goes beautifully with shrimp and avocado in a salad, makes for a healthy Waldorf salad, and is delicious in a salad with blood oranges, feta cheese and toasted pecans. Dragon fruit can also be used in a panna cotta or a cheesecake, in a mango fruit tart, or ice cream and popsicles. For 30 recipes using dragon fruit check out Rainbowdelicious.com

Here are some recipes from the soon to be released Amorentia Sweet Dragon Fruit cookbook.

Amorentia Sweet Dragon Fruit Salsa

This dragon fruit salsa combines the sweetness of dragon fruit with the fire of chilli. (Photo: Supplied)

Ingredients

1 to 2 dragon fruit peeled and cubed (about 1 cup); it looks great with a mix of differently coloured fruit 

1 green onion, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander 

1 tablespoon lime juice

Salt to taste

1 red chilli, seeded and chopped, to taste 

Method

Gently combine all ingredients in a bowl. Serve with chips or tacos or use to top roasted veg.

Amorentia Sweet Dragon Fruit Sorbet

Try this dragon fruit sorbet for a gorgeous palate cleanser in between dishes. (Photo: Supplied)

Ingredients

4 ripe magenta-fleshed dragon fruits

2 tablespoons lemon juice

4 tablespoons sugar

¾ cup cold water in case you want to adjust the consistency 

Method

Place dragon fruit in a food processor or blender. Add water depending on ripeness of fruit and preferred consistency. You can blend from frozen. 

Puree until smooth, pour purée into a shallow pan and freeze. Allow about 10 minutes at room temperature for the sorbet to soften before serving. 

Amorentia Sweet Dragon Fruit Smoothie

Dragon fruit is a superfood packed with goodness, and it’s seriously easy to make this super healthy dragon fruit smoothie. (Photo: Supplied)

Ingredients

Amorentia Sweet Dragon fruit flesh, chopped 

2 sprigs of mint

Ice 

Method

Toss all the ingredients into your blender or smoothie maker. DM/TGIFood

Amorentia Estate and Nursery www.amorentia.co.za

Follow Bridget Hilton-Barber on Instagram @bridgethiltonbarber

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