Fruit of the Week – Lychee

October 31, 2011 at 10:27 AM | Posted in Food, fruits | 1 Comment
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Lychee

The lychee (Litchi chinensis, and commonly called leechi, litchi, laichi, lichu, lizhi) is the sole member of the genus Litchi in the soapberry family, Sapindaceae. It is a tropical and subtropical fruit tree native to Southern China and Southeast Asia, and now

cultivated in many parts of the world. The fresh fruit has a “delicate, whitish pulp” with a “perfume” flavor that is lost in canning, so the fruit is mostly eaten fresh.

An evergreen tree reaching 10–20 m tall, the lychee bears fleshy fruits that are up to 5 cm (2.0 in) long and 4 cm (1.6 in) wide. The outside of the fruit is covered by a pink-red, roughly-textured rind that is inedible but easily removed to expose a layer of sweet, translucent white flesh. Lychees are eaten in many different dessert dishes, and are especially popular in China, throughout South-East Asia, along with South Asia and India.

The lychee is cultivated in China, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, and northern India (in particular Bihar, which accounts for 75% of total Indian production.) South Africa and the United States (Hawaii and Florida) also have commercial lychee production.

The lychee has a history of cultivation going back as far as 2000 BC according to records in China. Cultivation began in the area of southern China, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Wild trees still grow in parts of southern China and on Hainan Island. There are many stories of the fruit’s use as a delicacy in the Chinese Imperial Court. It was first described and introduced to the west in 1782.

Litchi chinensis is an evergreen tree that is frequently less than 10 m (33 ft) tall, sometimes reaching more than 15 m (49 ft). The bark is grey-black, the branches a brownish-red. Leaves are 10 to 25 cm (3.9 to 9.8 in) or longer, with leaflets in 2-4 pairs. Litchee have a similar foliage to the Lauraceae family likely due to convergent evolution. They are adapted by developing leaves that repel water, similar to laurophyll or lauroide leaves which are adapted to high rainfall and humidity in laurel forest habitats. Flowers grow on a terminal inflorescence with many panicles on the current season’s growth. The panicles grow in clusters of ten or more, reaching 10 to 40 cm (3.9 to 16 in) or longer, holding hundreds of small white, yellow, or green flowers that are distinctively fragrant.

Fruits mature in 80–112 days, depending on climate, location, and cultivar. Fruits reach up to 5 cm (2.0 in) long and 4 cm (1.6 in) wide, varying in shape from round, to ovoid, to heart-shaped. The thin, tough inedible skin is green when immature, ripening to red or pink-red, and is smooth or covered with small sharp protuberances. The skin turns brown and dry when left out after harvesting. The fleshy, edible portion of the fruit is an aril, surrounding one dark brown inedible seed that is 1 to 3.3 cm (0.39 to 1.3 in) long and .6 to 1.2 cm (0.24 to 0.47 in) wide. Some cultivars produce a high percentage of fruits with shriveled aborted seeds known as ‘chicken

Lychees, showing a peeled fruit

tongues’. These fruit typically have a higher price, due to having more edible flesh.

Lychees are extensively grown in China, and also elsewhere in Brazil, South-East Asia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, southern Japan, and more recently in California, Hawaii, Texas, Florida, the wetter areas of eastern Australia and sub-tropical regions of South Africa, Israel and also in the states of Sinaloa and San Luis Potosí (specifically, in La Huasteca) in Mexico. They require a warm subtropical to tropical climate that is cool but also frost-free or with only very slight winter frosts not below -4°C, and with high summer heat, rainfall, and humidity. Growth is best on well-drained, slightly acidic soils rich in organic matter. A wide range of cultivars is available, with early and late maturing forms suited to warmer and cooler climates respectively. They are also grown as an ornamental tree as well as for their fruit.

Lychees are commonly sold fresh in Asian markets, and in recent years, also widely in supermarkets worldwide. The red rind turns

dark brown when the fruit is refrigerated, but the taste is not affected. It is also sold canned year-round. The fruit can be dried with the rind intact, at which point the flesh shrinks and darkens. Dried lychee are often called lychee nuts, though, of course, they are not a real nut.

According to folklore, a lychee tree that is not producing much fruit can be girdled, leading to more fruit production.

The lychee contains on average a total 72 mg of Vitamin C per 100 grams of fruit.[11] On average nine lychee fruits would meet an adult’s daily recommended Vitamin C requirement.

A cup of lychee fruit provides, among other minerals, for a 2000-calorie diet, mainly from sugar, 14%DV of copper, 9%DV of phosphorus, and 6%DV of potassium.

Like most plant-based foods, lychees are low in saturated fat and sodium and are cholesterol free. Lychees have moderate amounts of polyphenols, shown in one French study to be higher than several other fruits analyzed. On the phenolic composition, flavan-3-ol monomers and dimers were the major found compounds representing about 87.0% of the phenolic compounds that declined with storage or browning. Cyanidin-3-glucoside was a major anthocyanin and represented 91.9% of anthocyanins. It also declined with storage or browning. Small amounts of malvidin-3-glucoside were also found.

In traditional Chinese medicine, Lychee is known for being a fruit with “hot” properties (see the six excesses for more details on the definition of heat), and excessive consumption of Lychee can, in certain extreme cases, lead to fainting spells or skin rashes.

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