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Health Benefits of the Lychee Fruit - Litchi

Updated on November 4, 2010

The Lychee Fruit

The lychee (litchi chinensis) is a tropical fruit tree native to Asia. It is now cultivated in many parts of the world and its fruit is known by the names lychee, litchi, laichi and lichu. Prime season for fresh lychees is June and July, but they are available canned and dried throughout the year. When dried, they are referred to as lychee nuts.

The lychee tree is a medium-sized evergreen which yields an abundance of small fleshy fruits. The outside of the fruit is covered by a pink-red, roughly textured skin. This skin is inedible, but is easily removed to expose the sweet, translucent white flesh surrounding a large inedible seed. The flesh of the lychee looks like a peeled green grape and has a similar texture. It’s delicious with a distinct sweet, succulent flavor; much like a fusion of strawberries, watermelon and grapes. Lychees are used in many dessert dishes and are very popular in China and throughout Southeast Asia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.

Lychee Fruit

Lychee Fruit - This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons. Author B.navez
Lychee Fruit - This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons. Author B.navez

The lychee has been cultivated in China as far back as 2000 BCE. There are many stories of the fruit’s use as a delicacy in the Chinese Imperial Court. The lychee was first introduced to the west in the late 18th century.

Lychees are commonly sold fresh in Asian markets. The red rind turns a dark brown when the fruit is refrigerated, but this doesn’t affect the taste. The outer leathery skin also has a thin inner membrane that must be removed before eating. As the lychee ripens, the skin and inner membrane lose water and become tougher, fusing together.

Lychee Fruit Diet

When shopping for lychee, select a fruit with a bright coloring and no blemishes. The skin is naturally tough and leathery, but it should be pliable and not too dry. If the fruit tastes bitter or sour, it’s not ripe. Unfortunately, lychees will not continue to ripen once they have been picked.

Fresh lychees should be wrapped in a damp paper towel and placed in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to one week. They will begin to ferment as they age, so they must be used quickly. Lychees can also be frozen. Simply place the fruit, with the skin on, in a plastic zip bag; suck the air out, seal and place in the freezer.

Peeled Lychee Fruit

Peeled Lychee Fruit - This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons.  Author Luc Viatour
Peeled Lychee Fruit - This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons. Author Luc Viatour

To peel a lychee, most people simply use their fingernail to dig into the leathery outer skin and peel it away. If you’re peeling a large amount for a recipe, a small knife can be used to cut through the skin lengthwise all around the seed. If the lychee is very fresh, you’ll need to gently peel the skin and inner membrane away from the fruit, much like peeling an orange. If the lychees have been stored for a while, the skin and membrane will peel away easily, usually in whole halves after having been scored around the seed.

If the lychees are very ripe, you can often just tear off one end of the skin, pinch it toward the opposite end and the fruit will slip right out of its skin and into your mouth or bowl.

Lychees make a great addition to fruit salads, desserts, chicken salad, stir-fries or in sweet and sour dishes. They’re also delicious when used in dessert sauces, jellies and syrups. The fresh juice also makes a delicious drink.

Because of its distinctively sweet taste and numerous health benefits, lychees have been a favorite fruit of Chinese royalty since ancient times.

No other fruit can boast such a long, illustrious history as the lychee. A history involving an emperor and his pursuit for the coveted fruit. As legend has it, the last emperor of the Tang dynasty, in order to woo his favorite concubine, dispatched his royal guards to the far reaches of the empire, a distance of 600 miles, in order to acquire the lychees to ensure their freshness.

From China, the fruit slowly became popular all over the world and has now been declared a “Super Fruit”. Scientists have determined that the lychee is one of the best sources of antioxidants.

Lychee Products

Lychees in heavy syrup.

Health Benefits of Lychee Fruit

In addition to great taste, here are a few important health benefits of the lychee fruit:

1. Guiltless pleasure -

Lychee fruit are low in calories, contain no saturated fats or cholesterol and are rich in dietary fiber. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), each lychee fruit contains approximately 7 calories. Sweet and low calorie aren't often combined!

2. A huge dose of Vitamin C and potassium -

Lychee, like citrus fruits, is an excellent source of vitamin C. The USDA not only cites high levels of vitamin C, an important antioxidant, but high levels of potassium as well. Potassium is important in regulating blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

3. Excellent source of B-complex vitamins –

Lychees are a very good source of B-complex vitamins such as thiamin, niacin and folates. These vitamins are essential to help the body metabolize carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

4. More polyphenol power -
A 2006 study cited in the Journal of Nutrition found that lychees had the second highest concentration of polyphenols, nature's most potent and abundant antioxidants, of all fruits commonly eaten in France.

5. Cancer protection -
A study performed at Sichuan University in China last year found that the antioxidants found in lychees may prevent the formation of breast cancer cells. Also, the flavones quercitin and kaempferol identified in the French study were cited in an earlier study as a powerful force in reducing the proliferation of cancer cells.

A Chinese research team recently discovered that the lychee fruit exhibited potential anti-breast cancer properties. The study, published in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology (2006), shows that this delicate fruit inhibits the formation and progression of breast cancer.

For additional information on another excellent all natural product that can greatly benefit your health, please visit the wheatgrass juicer . Wheatgrass juice is a natural source of vitamins A and C. It contains more vitamin C than oranges and twice the vitamin A as carrots. It’s exceptionally rich in vitamins E, K, and B-complex and is a natural source of laetrile (B-17).


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