Introducing pitaya — a fuchsia plant that’s the hotter, healthier version of dragon fruit.
Move over dragon — this is the year of the pitaya. The Central American staple and sexier sibling of the dragon fruit is finally paving its way onto the US health market. With about 90 percent growing in Nicaragua specifically, pitayas are way more than just a good-looking fruit — they boast an abundance of nutritional benefits: Loaded with fiber, antioxidants, Vitamin C and low in sugar, this produce is foreseeing a future as a superfruit among the acais, blueberries and the gojis.
“I think it’s a really, really beautiful piece of fruit,” says Eric Helms, founder of Juice Generation in New York City whose idea was his to import the Nicaraguan crop to the juicery. Helms, who also is co-founder of Cooler Cleanse, describes the minute-sized fruit as resembling a colored kiwi on the inside and a flaming pink artichoke on the outside. And although almost identical, the pitaya and the dragon fruit have distinct characteristics. “People think it’s the same thing, but the flavor and nutritional profile are entirely different,” Helms says. Case in point: the interior of the dragon fruit is white whereas pitaya is red. “They both have a mild flavor profile. To me, pitaya kind of tastes like an earthy strawberry or raspberry. It’s very hydrating but doesn’t taste like you’re drinking a really sweet smoothie — it tastes healthy.”
Which, for Juice Generation’s gym-going, health-obsessed clientele, is music to the ears. So how did the apple of Nicaragua make it to the Big Apple? “It was a year and a half process,” explains Helms. The journey began when Helms discovered pitaya at a Whole Foods market, took some home with him and was instantly hooked. “I went to the website of the company, sent an email and discovered that the guy who exported the pitaya was originally from New York and was familiar with Juice Generation.” And just like that, a beautiful friendship was born. “We are a small business and he’s a small business owner, and so it was just a good fit for both of us.” And with that spirit, Helms decided to buy out the entire crop from the exporter for two seasons. “We said we’re in if we can get the organic certification guaranteeing exclusivity, which delayed things a bit, but I’m so glad we did it.”
And he didn’t stop there. Helms wanted to present pitaya in a way that catered to Juice Generation, both visually and nutritionally, which then sparked the idea of infusing the pitaya in Juice Generation's Coco Blends menu; popular smoothies in a young Thai coconut. “With the flavor profile, it works so beautifully with coconuts," says Helms. "We sell so many coconuts to people after spinning and yoga. And as silly as this sounds, the hot pink in the middle of the white (coconut) looks amazing.” Dubbed Pink Pitaya, this Coco Blend item is only available for a limited time.
Don’t have a Juice Generation in your neighborhood? Try this homemade recipe:
Pitaya Zen Smoothie
6 oz of organic soy milk
4 oz fresh orange juice
4 oz of pitaya pulp
½ oz organic agave nectar
1" piece ginger root
3 oz ice
Blend well and serve