Delicious and juicy lychee or “Litchi” heralds the arrival of summer. Besides being sweet and nutritious, these berries bring cooling effect on the human body to beat the scorching summer heat. Botanically, this exotic fruit belongs to the family of Sapindaceae and named scientifically as Litchi chinensis.
The L. chinensis is a tropical fruit tree native to the low elevations of the Kwangtung and Fukien provinces in the Southern China.
It is a slow-growing, medium-sized evergreen tree with dense, round-topped foliage, and smooth, gray, brittle trunk and branches. It may reach 40 to 50 feet height. Litchis are not only eye-catching plants during spring when their huge spray of flowers adorn the tree but also a stunning sight for fruit lovers when it totally covers with beautiful berries.
In structure, the fruit is a drupe; oval, heart-shaped or nearly round, measures about 3 to 5 cm long and 3 cm in diameter and weigh about 10 g. In appearance, the fruit has a close resemblance to longan and rambutans.
Its outer skin is rough leathery rind or peel, featuring pink color. Its peel can be detached easily in the ripe berries. Inside, its flesh consists of edible portion or aril that is white, translucent, sweet, and juicy.
Litchi has a sweet taste and fragrant flavor that everyone from children to elderly is looking forward to savoring! Its flesh envelopes around a single, glossy, brown seed, 2 cm long, and 1–1.5 cm in diameter. The seeds, like that in the case of sapodilla,, are not poisonous but should not be eaten. Fresh lychees can be readily available in the markets from May to October, about 120-140 days after flowering.
Health benefits of Lychee
Lychee fruit contains 66 calories per 100 g, comparable to that in the table grapes. It has no saturated fats or cholesterol but composes of good amounts of dietary fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants.
Research studies suggest that Oligonol, a low molecular weight polyphenol, is found abundantly in lychee fruit. Oligonol is thought to have antioxidant and anti-influenza virus actions. Also, it helps improve blood flow to organs, reduce weight, and protect skin from harmful UV rays. (Takuya Sakurai (Kyorin University, Japan), Biosci. Biotechnol. Biochem., 72(2), 463-476, 2008).
Litchi, like citrus fruits, is an excellent source of vitamin-C; 100 g fresh fruits provide 71.5 mg or 119% of daily recommended value. Studies suggest that consumption of fruits rich in vitamin-C helps human body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals.
Further, it is a very good source of B-complex vitamins such as thiamin, niacin, and folates. These vitamins are essential since they function by acting as co-factors to help the body metabolize carbohydrates, protein, and fats.
Litchi also carries many minerals like potassium and copper. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids help control heart rate and blood pressure; thus, it offers protection against stroke and coronary heart diseases. Copper required in the production of red blood cells.
Selection and storage
Litchis get dried sooner if kept open at room temperature for a few hours and therefore should often be moistened to keep them fresh. Fresh fruits can be stored at room temperature for up to 2-3 days and can be stored for up to five weeks in the refrigerator. They can also be frozen or dried and canned for the purpose of exporting.
Preparation and serving methods
Separate each fruit from the stalk and wash them in cold water. To peel; gently pinch at the stem end and peel away outer coat slowly as in the top picture. Alternatively, using a small paring knife, make an incision in its tough outer skin lengthwise all the way to the tip. Take care not to squeeze its flesh, or else, you may squirt and lose juice! Next; carefully peel away the tough outer skin along with the thin inner membrane to expose beautiful, jelly textured translucent white flesh. Eat peeled whole berry, as you eat grapes. Do not bite. To enjoy, gently suck its divinely sweet juice by rolling between your tongue and palate and then spit out its seed.
Here are some serving tips:
Fresh lychee arils or flesh should be enjoyed all alone without any additions/seasonings.
Litchi slices can be a great addition to fruit salads and dressings.
Lychee juice can be a refreshing drink during the summer season.
Litchis can be used in jellies, jams, sorbet, sauces, and syrups.
Litchi fruit allergic reactions are quite rare to occur. Its seeded, sweet pulp can be safely given to children. People with diabetes may want to avoid eating too many of them because of their high sugar content.