Botanical name: Litchi chinensis
Sometimes known as "litchi" or a similar spelling variation, the exotic lychee fruit is from the soapberry family. The evergreen trees they grow on can reach 100 feet, and produce red or pale orange fruits with a tough, "bumpy," easily peeled skin resembling large raspberries. Each contains white flesh and a single, large, inedible seed, which makes this fruit a drupe. Lychee is juicy with a distinctive, slightly acidic fragrance and flavor, comparable to grapes.
With the first mention found in Chinese literature circa 1059 A.D., ensuing centuries took lychee production from Burma in the 1600s to India a century later, the West Indies in 1775, and to French and English greenhouses by the 19th century. Because it does best in warm, humid climates, lychee thrived in Hawaii, Florida, and then California in the latter years of the 1800s. Lychees are an international fruit now, from Australia to Brazil, Burma to Africa.
Lychee yields can be pretty impressive, with the average 5-year-old tree in India producing 500 fruits, and a 20-year-old tree 4,000 to 5,000 fruits. One in Florida produced a record 1,200 tons of lychee in a year. There seems to be an important differentiation between two types: those leaking juice and those that don't, as well as the appearance of the seed. A narrow "chicken tongue" seed may mean a tougher, almost nut-like flesh.
Lychees keep well, offering perhaps better-than-fresh quality after a few weeks of storage. They turn brown, which sometimes indicates increased sweetness.
Dried lychees are larger but similar to raisins, and a prized delicacy in some countries. Sealed well, they can be stored for as long as a year. Fresh or dried, lychees can be chopped into fruit or green salads. Stuffed lychees are popular with cream cheese and nuts.
But like other little-known fruits, lychee is being exploited by interests hoping to make good on this super-fruit by turning it into a high-cost supplement drink or capsule. The best way to get the best of the fruit is to simply eat it.
Health Benefits of Lychee
Ancient Chinese legend has it that dedication to the health benefits of lychee prompted consumption of several hundred lychees per day. The results of this practice aren't reported. But there is medical proof that lychees can relieve coughing, ease abdominal pain, and have a positive effect on tumors and swollen glands. The seeds are prescribed for testicular inflammation and neuralgia pain.
Tea made from lychee peelings is said to cure smallpox and diarrhea. In India, the seeds are ground to make tea for stomach trouble. Parts of the bark, root, and lychee flowers are gargled for sore throat.
Lychee is rich in dietary fiber to help maintain optimum regularity and a healthy weight. One of this fruit's most plentiful and unique nutrients is oligonol, which contains a number of valuable antioxidants with the ability to fight flu viruses, improve blood flow, and protect the skin from UV rays.
Lychee is loaded with vitamin C, providing 119% of the recommended daily value in one serving. This further protects against colds and other infections, helps the body develop resistance, and fights inflammation.
Other nutritive ingredients in lychee include high levels of B vitamins, such as vitamin B6, as well as potassium (which helps help control heart rate and blood pressure and stave off strokes and heart disease), thiamin, niacin, folate, and copper (which produces red blood cells, maintains healthy bones, prevents thyroid problems, and anemia). All these are vital for maintaining carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolization.
However, consume lychees in moderation because they contain fructose, which may be harmful to your health in excessive amounts.
Note: There have been reports of allergies associated with eating lychee fruit.
Lychee Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 1 cup of chopped lychee (100grams)
Amt. Per Serving
Studies on Lychee
Scientists studied lychee fruits, known to possess rich amounts of flavonoids, polyphenols, and proanthocyanidins. Lychee seeds are proven to inhibit breast and liver cancer cell growth.
Because lychee extracts hadn't been tested on colorectal cancer, a new study was undertaken to examine its effects on the proliferation, cell cycle, and cell death of two colorectal cancer cell lines. The result: significantly increased colorectal cancer cell death and arrested cell cycle in vitro, evidence that lychee extracts can be considered a potential chemopreventive agent for colorectal cancer.1
Lychee extract also demonstrated significant inhibition of hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer, in vitro and in vivo, altering proliferation and inducing cell death in this cancer type.2
Lychee Healthy Recipes: Lychee Lime Lassi (Yogurt Drink)
- 1 cup yogurt (lime, lemon)
- 1/2 cup lychees (chopped)
- 1 fresh lime juice
- 1/2 Tbsp. honey
- 6 ice cubes
- 1/4 tsp. ground cardamom (fine powder)
- Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth and frothy.
This recipe makes one serving.
Lychee Fun Facts
When Emperor Wu Ti of the Han Dynasty conquered the Southern capital of Canton (Guangdong), he was introduced to the juicy, flavorful "laichi" fruit. He loved it so much that he ordered 500 trees to be planted, but they all died in the frigid northern temperatures. He tried it again with similar results. He then remedied his taste for the fruits by demanding them to be paid as tribute. Later, mature trees were transported and carefully tended for a successful crop.
Sweet and exotic, lychees are one of the tropical delights that many Americans are unfamiliar with. That's too bad, because they offer a delightful flavor and satisfying juiciness eaten fresh or in several different culinary endeavors. Lychee skin is reddish and easy to peel, revealing a white, somewhat translucent flesh.
Like many other fruits grown in warm, humid climates such as China, India, and even some of the Southern U.S. states, lychees contain an amazing amount of vitamin C: 119% per 100-gram serving. A healthy array of supporting nutrients is also added, including B vitamins, potassium, thiamin, niacin, folate, and copper.
In the Midwest and Northern states, this luscious fruit is only as far away as your nearest supermarket, but lychee can be grown in your backyard if you live in sultry climates.