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Lychee (litchi)

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Delicious and juicy lychee or "Litchi" heralds you the arrival of summer. Besides being sweet and nutritious, these berries bring cooling effect on the human body to beat the 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 40-50 feet height. Litchis, not only eye-catching plant during spring when its huge spray of flowers adorn the tree but also is a stunning sight for fruit lovers when the tree cover totally with beautiful berries.

In structure, the fruit is a drupe; oval, heart-shaped or nearly round, measures about 3–5 cm long and 3 cm in diameter and weigh about 10 g. In appearance, the fruit has close resemblances with longan and rambutan fruits.

Its outer skin is rough leathery rind or peel featuring pink color. Its peel can be detached easily once the fruit is ripen. Inside, the pulp consists of edible portion or aril that is white, translucent, sweet, and juicy.

Litchi has sweet, fragrant flavor and delicious to savor. Its flesh envelopes around a single, glossy, brown seed, 2 cm long, and 1–1.5 cm in diameter. The seeds, as that in case of sapodilla, are not poisonous but should not be eaten. Fresh lychees are 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 anti-oxidant and anti-influenza virus actions. In addition, it helps improve blood flow in 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 the 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 a very good amount of 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 is required in the production of red blood cells.

Selection and storage

Fresh lychee fruits are available in the markets from May to October. The Fruit must be allowed to ripen fully on the tree itself since the ripening process ceases once it harvested. On the other hand, over maturity makes them turn dark-brown in appearance and lose their luster and flavor. While harvesting, snip off the entire fruit brunch, keeping intact a short piece of the stem attached to the fruit.

In the store, choose fruits that feature fresh, without cuts or mold. Litchis surface get dried sooner if kept open at room temperature for a few hours and therefore should be moistened often to keep them fresh. Fresh fruits can be kept 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 export purposes.

Preparation and serving methods

Separate each fruit from the brunch and wash them in cold water. To peel; gently pinch at stem end and peel away outer coat slowly as in the top picture. Alternatively, using a small-paring knife, make an incision over its outer tough skin lengthwise all the way to tip. Take care not to press the fruit otherwise you may squirt its juice! Next; carefully peel away the tough outer skin along with the inner thin membrane to expose beautiful, jelly textured translucent white flesh. Once you remove its outer cover, put the whole berry in the mouth as you do in case of 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.

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