My very first breakfast in Ecuador included the strangest-looking fruit I had never seen, a pitahaya. Its bright yellow, leathery skin protects a juicy, white interior flecked with hundreds of small, flat, black seeds. Its flavor is absolutely delicious, with the sweetness of the ripest melon and a similar texture to a soft, juicy pear.

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Pitahaya: The Name

The name pitahaya (pee-ta-hi-ya) comes from the indigenous Taíno of the Caribbean. Therefore, the “h” is pronounced even in Spanish-speaking Ecuador where h’s are generally silent. Pitahaya literally means scaly, a perfect description of this exotic fruit’s petal-shaped, scaled exterior.

Additionally, pitahaya is confused with the similar sounding name of pitaya, another cactus fruit that comes from Mexico and Central America. They are not the same fruit though they both grow on cactus plants.

In the United States, the pitahaya came to our shores via Asia. Therefore, it’s known by it’s Chinese name dragon fruit, or huǒlóng guǒ (火龍果). Its scaly exterior is reminiscent of a dragon’s scales.


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How to Eat a Pitahaya

However, few people are going to pick a dragonfruit in the wild. Best to leave them for the birds!

Fortunately, they are easy enough to find in many corner stores. Better yet, they make a great snack food. They come well protected in their leathery skin and don’t bruise as readily as bananas.

All you need to eat the fruit is a small pocket knife and a napkin to wipe your fingers and mouth. Merely slice the fruit lengthwise in quarters and peel the skin away from the flesh, eating as you separate the two. Or slice into small chunks and add to your fruit salad.

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Ecuadorians will warn you to eat with care. In short, eating too many pitahaya in one sitting is like eating too many prunes. A good thing if in need of a laxative but take caution if you are already struggling with stomach issues do to altitude adjustment.