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Lychee Fruit: A True Super Food

Updated on July 5, 2010

Many health-conscious people today are turning to the natural world for health benefits. Every year, some new “super food” is discovered. One of the latest discoveries is the lychee fruit, and this one isn’t just hype!

Lychee, or properly Litchi chinensis, is a tropical plant that’s native to parts of India, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Lychee is actually a member of the soapberry family. The fruits from the lychee tree are rather unusual looking. They somewhat resemble a bumpy leather strawberry. When this leather jacket is removed, however, the delicious flesh of the lychee fruit is uncovered.

What does lychee fruit taste like?

Lychee fruit is sweet, with a taste somewhat like the combination of a pear and a grape. The flesh is delicate, and the fruits have a sweet, slightly musky aroma. Lychee is ususlly eaten fresh, but it can also be preserved by canning. It’s often made into jams, jellies, sauces, purees, and preserves. In some regions, lychee is a favorite addition to salads and desserts.

Another way to enjoy the fruit is in its dried form. The dried lychee is usually referred to as lychee nuts, although they don’t look or taste like nuts. They more closely resemble raisins in both appearance and taste.

History of the lychee

The Chinese often seem to appreciate the inherent benefits in natural foods long before the Western World catches on. Such is the case with the lychee. They’ve been using lychee fruit for hundreds of years!

The benefits of lychees were extolled in Chinese literature as early as the eleventh century. References from the Tang Dynasty also mention the lychee. During this period, Emperor Li Longji had the special fruits delivered every day and night to his favorite concubine, making sure she always had an ample supply of lychee.

The spread of the lychee

Something as popular as the lychee couldn’t remain a Chinese secret forever. The growing of lychee trees spread across Asia in the 1600s, and by the next century, the fruits and the trees had made their way to the West Indies. The practice spread to Europe in the 1800s.
The English were captivated by the lychee, and since it wouldn’t grow well in the cool climate, it was often grown in greenhouses. By the end of the 19th century, lychees were being grown in the United States, mostly in Florida and California, where the warm climate agreed with the fruit trees.

The health benefits of lychee fruit

The Chinese and other Asian populations have long used the lychee fruits as a pain reliever, especially as a remedy for sore throats. They also ate the fruits to relieve the symptoms of colds and as a digestive aid. Asians believe the lychee fruit enhances overall good health and increases longevity.

What about the modern scientific evidence and the treatments of breast cancer?

There’s no disputing that lychee is a healthy food. It’s packed with vitamin C. Lychee also has flavanoids with powerful antioxidant potential, which might help ward off a host of ailments.

In the past few years, scientists and doctors began to study the specifics of the lychee. A study at Zhejiang Gongshang University in Hangzhou, China revealed some of the amazing effects of lychee. These scientists discovered that the flavonoids in lychee were found to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. The lychee pulp in the study seemed especially effective against human breast cancer. Hopefully, with more studies and experimentation, lychee can become part of the treatments of breast cancer.

A subsequent study, conducted at the Chegdu’s West China Hospital at Sichuan University, echoed the previous findings. This scientific study confirmed that the polyphenolic compounds of lychee inhibited the growth of cancer cells, especially in certain types of carcinomas. This offers even more hope that lychee might someday play a significant role in the effective prevention and treatments of breast cancer.

What about research in the U.S.?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Cancer Institute joined forces to study the potential benefits of lychee. They found that lychee root extract inhibited the growth of one type of cancerous tumors in laboratory animals. Of course, this is exciting news, and subsequent studies will follow.

As for informal evidence, many people who consume lychee report numerous benefits. One of the most prominent is the lychee’s apparent ability to relieve pain from stomach ulcers. Others report that they have more energy and experience fewer colds and coughs.

The studies about lychee have created a buzz and have increased the demand for the fruit worldwide. Currently, lychee trees are commercially grown in Florida and California, and Americans seem to be developing a taste for this new super food.

Where can you find lychee fruit?

You can find lychee fruit products online, in health food stores, and in Asian markets. If you purchase the fresh fruits, remove the outer skin and eat the delicious pulp, but avoid the seed. Store your lychee fruits in the fridge. Even if the fruits turn brown after a day or two under refrigeration, the pulp itself will be good to eat.

Lychee is also often added to teas, health drink mixes, candies, and even to skin creams. You can also purchase canned lychees.

Check out the lychee products below!

The lychee fruit is a super food!
The lychee fruit is a super food!

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