To tell the difference between the red & white dragon fruits (even before peeling), we can look at their scales, flowers & sometimes branches.

Here are the differences we've observed:

#1. Scales (or Ears)

Scales or ears are the little triangles around the dragon fruit body. The red (sometimes purple and pink) dragon fruits tend to have more curvy, green and thick scales.

all-around-red-dragon-fruit
All around red dragon fruit

Is this a natural phenomenon? Not entirely. Because in some markets, farmers beautify these scales by hand-curving them, thus the curve, green color and thickness.

The curvy, thicker scales are to increase the attraction value for the red variety, which many folks find more flavorful than the white. The thickness can also prevent broken scales when the fruits reach the end consumers.

scales-of-red-dragon-fruit
Curving dragon fruit scales
dragon-fruit-broken-scales
A white dragon fruit with broken off scales

When let grow naturally, the scales are straighter and thinner:

natural-not-curved-straight-dragon-fruit-scales
Straighter, thinner scales | Source

So when you see dragon fruits with super curvy ears, you may know they may have been hand-curved and they're more likely the red variety.


The whites tend to have wider, further-apart and fewer ears:

white-dragon-fruit-samples-wide
White: wider, fewer scales around the fruit bodies

Whereas the reds have darker, narrower, and more scales:

red-dragon-fruit-scale-body
Red: Narrower, more scales around the fruit bodies

Second, the flowers will give us a hint:

#2. Flower margins & tips

The red variety's flower tips are red whereas the white variety's are green or yellow.

red-white-flower-tips
Red-purple flower tips vs Green-yellow flower tips

Despite this difference, both varieties produce white, fragrant flowers.

And here are their:

#3. Branches

It can be a bit hard to tell red from white dragon fruits just by looking at the branches. Overall, the red-flesh varieties seem to some more thorns on the branches than the white ones.

For some red varieties, they have this distinctive shape of a braid or waves. The Sin Espinas & Bien Hoa Red have this sort of branch shape.

branch-shape-red-varieties

Some other red ones have super thorny branches:

thorny-red-branch-shape

In comparison, the white ones have 'milder' and less spiky stems:

white-branch-shape

According to a grower, there may be little clue to tell which variety of dragon fruit it is just by looking at the cutting. A DNA test could give more accurate results.

We think, if you play around more with these varieties, you may be able to tell one from another from memory.

Regarding the nutritional difference:

#4. Anti-oxidants/Sugar content

The deeper/more intense the red color, the more anti-oxidants there are in the fruits. Red dragon fruits therefore tend to have a higher anti-oxidant amount than the white ones. This is great for the skin, the eyes & blood.

Although the white dragon fruits may be sweet-tasting, their sugar content is usually lower than the red. This makes them a great treat for diabetics. Seoul Kitchen and George's White are some good ones. They pack a ton of vitamins & fiber without being overly sweet.

>> Fun fact

Before becoming a red dragon fruit, the inside of the baby fruit is actually white. As it gets more ripened, it gradually turns the inside flesh color into red.

Comparison Table

Feature Red White
Scales Narrower, more Wider, fewer
Skin Deep dark red Bright pinkish
Flower margins Red-purple Green-yellow
Branches Wavy, spiky Milder, less spiky
Anti-oxidants More Less
Sugar content Usually more Less

A few last notes

But please remember these are brief comparison points & not set-in-stone definitions. They may help you with some clues to tell which is which before buying or just have some fun guessing.

A good way to approach this is to explore the countless varieties of dragon fruits there are. Once you're a bit familiar with the different varieties, you can more easily recognize them from memory & play around with them to your own liking.

There may be some other characteristics we haven't mentioned like the 'twistiness' or straightness of the branch, the round/oblong shape of the fruit, the thickness/thinness of the skin, the protective coat on the branches, etc.

If you have a chance to compare the seeds, the much-bigger seeds are more likely the yellow-skin white-flesh variety. The other ones have very small seeds. Dragon fruit seeds don't get broken down by human digestive system. The stools may get the color from the red dragon fruit (it's not blood, phew!).

A dragon fruit grower cuts open different red/white varieties here

>> Have a guess:

Pitahayas en San Sebastian Puerto Rico

Red varieties common names

  • Lisa, Maria Rosa, Valdivia Roja, El Grullo, Tricia, Kim Red, Sugar Dragon, Voodoo Child, Bloody Mary
red-varieties-common-name-list

White varieties names

  • Seoul Kitchen, Vietnam White, George White, Connie Mayer, Bien Hoa White
white-dragon-fruit-common-names

Purple/magenta dragon fruits

  • American Beauty, Physical Graffiti, Purple Haze, Haley's Comet, Cosmic Charlie
purple-dragon-fruit-variety-common-names

Image source

More info here: https://www.tropicalfruitnursery.com/variety-viewer-variety-dragon-fruit--reference-2

Credits:

Being A Wordsmith

Responses to Readers' Questions:

What is the interval in eating the red dragon fruit. Can it be eaten on a daily basis for both versions. Thanks.

--> Not a food expert but I believe it is okay to have dragon fruit on a daily basis. You could alternate between the two to get the different good bits from each version.

I am not sure about the recommended interval for each person. However, just don't go overboard. I'd say try a little bit first and see how it goes for you. From my personal experience, I can share with you that this is definitely a great fruit for the digestive system.

Red or white dragon fruit increase platelets faster?

--> Thanks for the question. From Zeenews, it says: "Dragon fruit helps in improving platelet count in dengue patients because of its antioxidant properties."

If this is correct, then the red one might increase platelet count more because it usually has more antioxidants than the white one. Again, I am not a doctor. You should also do more of your own research just to be better informed.

Is there an alias for the variety "moroccan red"? Can't find some information about that name and heard it's just an alias for "Royal red" is that right? Want to know something about the pollination of moroccan red, because I got a cutting and want to know before planting... Thanks

--> Thanks for your question. I have heard of the moroccan red variety from a YouTube video (from 4:08 - 5:02): https://www.youtube.com/embed/rIx7tJrSPUc?start=248&end=302 (plating the dragon fruit cactus una dekada)

I am not sure about the alias. There is some vague suggestive information about the names because the fruit looks very similar to the Taiwanese purple, aka Ruby Red, Royal Red or Robles Red etc.

However, this is not definitive info. If it is true though, then like the Robles Red (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8dP4WghkZk), the Moroccan Red may be self-fertile, meaning, you can use its own pollen to pollinate its own flowers.

In another case, if it turns out to be not self-fertile, you could use the pollen of some other varieties like Lisa, Sugar Dragon S8 or Vietnam White to cross-pollinate it. These ones are sometimes called "universal super pollinators" because their pollen is quite strong & adaptable. They can get the other varieties to be fertilized and set fruits at higher chances. You could also mix different varieties' pollen together and observe the results for your variety.

You can tell a Moroccan Red by looking at its stem. The curves/edges on the stem are more prominent, not straight all the way.

Also, unlike some other red varieties which give smaller oblong fruits, the fruits of Moroccan Red are more round and much bigger. They are also very sweet. I can share this from some personal experience tasting oblong vs round red-flesh dragon fruits. The round ones are so good. Enjoy growing yours. I hope this helps!

Relevant info: How to pollinate dragon fruits

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