I vividly remember my first trip to Barranquilla, located at the Atlantic coast of Colombia, several years ago. We were travelling with my husband so I could meet my in-laws for the first time. We arrived at night and from the airport to home, I kept asking if we could go visit the ocean now. My request was received by hesitant faces of my in-laws, telling me that we could wait till the next day to go to the beach.
The next morning, I woke up, ready for the beach! Instead, my father in-law invited me to go to the grocery store to do some fruit shopping. As we arrived to the store, I was amazed by all the exotic fruit I had never seen in my life. I felt like Alice in wonderland! Little I knew that, just like Alice, I was also about to find an unexpected potion. As I was walking around the store, expressing excitement about all the exotic fruit, my father in-law asked me to pick any fruit I liked so we could take them to the beach with us.
Like a little kid in a toy store, I began touching different fruit, not knowing which one to pick. As I was holding this yellow, mystical fruit in my hand, my husband approached, telling me that the name of the fruit was pitaya and it was sweet and tasty. There it was! I had found my prize!
I bought two pitayas and on our way to the beach I decided to eat one. I offered the fruit to everyone around but they all politely refused my offer. I opened the fruit and it was indeed tasty!
An hour had passed, we were already at the beach and had had our lunch. Suddenly, I had to run for the bathroom as if my life was dependent on it. I had gotten food poisoning! Thoughts began running in my head; “Scary Colombian kidnappers already are trying to poison and kidnap me. Oh no!!!” As I returned to the table, I quietly expressed to my husband that I think I may have been food poisoned, asking if he also experienced any symptoms. The reply was no which fed more into my conspiracy theory.
Later on during that week, I decided to try my second pitaya as it had become my new favorite fruit. About an hour later, I was faced with the truth; I hadn’t been poisoned to be kidnapped! I had eaten a pitaya! Within an hour from eating my second pitaya, I, once more, experienced the same watery, instant and short-lasting diarrhea! I asked my husband if pitaya could cause diarrhea and was told by him that yes, pitaya is well-known to be a strong laxative. I felt relieved that my conspiracy theories were only imaginations of my head; that no one was about to kidnap me, but I felt confused too as to why no one had warned me about this exotic looking, diarrhea-causing fruit.
There are a few things that Barranquilleros don´t feel the need to explain to us, the expats. Pitaya is a word used for several fruits all belonging to the dragon fruit family. The pitaya you commonly find in Barranquilla is mostly the yellow dragon fruit, called pitaya amarilla or just pitaya. Pitaya is a strong laxative and it causes watery, cramp-free and short lasting diarrhea. It can be used medicinally, and only occasionally, if you are experiencing constipation due to the shock of the costeño diet. However, avoid eating pitaya regularly as it may lead to dependence and cause further constipation issues in the long run (no pun intended!). Also, definitely avoid trying pitaya for the first time if you are planning to be somewhere public such as on a beach.
Pitaya, like many other fruit, is rich with fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants. However, since it also causes diarrhea, the nutrients may not be as readily absorbed by the body.
Another lifesaver is to know the difference between the fruit pitaya and patilla (pronounced as “patiya”). Patilla is a Spanish word used for watermelon in the coast of Colombia as the word sandía is rarely used here. So, unless you are consciously looking for a laxative, be careful what juice you are ordering. It´s patilla (Patiya), not pitaya!
That’s it my friends! There you have it! May this article save you from an unexpected guest at the beach and delusional conspiracy theories in your head. 😉
Be Healthy, be Happy!
Dr. Rasa Nikanjam, ND, BSc.