In Asia, lychees are as common as apples are to Westerners. One step into an Asian market and the shopper is inundated with lychee-flavored products, from martini mixes to candy. Though not as popular in the Asian subcontinent, Indians still appreciate its sweet juiciness when the fruits come into season.
Origin of Lychee
Lychees originate in Northern Vietnam and Southern China, where they’ve been cultivated for over 2,000 years. According to the book, “The Cultural History of Plants,” several subspecies exist throughout Indonesia and the Philippines as well. Additional evidence shows that Malayans may have been growing lychee as early as 1500 BC. In Asia, lychee’s reputation was so glowing that the fruits were frequently offered to the Chinese royalty as gifts.
Lychee’s high perishability inhibited its spread to other regions for centuries, but was brought to India sometime during the 17th century. Today, India is second only to China in lychee production. Other countries that grow and distribute lychee are Thailand, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and even South Africa. Hawaii and Florida also grow the fruit on a limited scale.
Availability of Lychee in India
India grows at least 12 important varieties of lychee, mostly in the North East. Production spreads as far north as Jammu and Kashmir, and as far east as Manipur. 75 percent of the country’s production occurs in Bihar’s city of Muzaffarpur. This is the region most suitable for growing lychee, as it’s generally free from frost and has an abundance of rainfall. The fruits are also sensitivity to humidity, and hot winds easily damage the fruit. Uttar Pradesh and Chhota Nagpur are other parts of India growing lychees.
Lychee harvest occurs in May and June, with the most prolific batch coming in early June. Regrettably, Indian farmers have difficulty capitalizing on lychee sales due to the fruit’s short production season and high perishability.
Where to find Lychee in India
In the early summer months, markets across India sell stick-like bouquets of lychees. Higher end stores sell separated individual fruits in the refrigerated section, while local low-key stores sell them by the branch on dusty tabletops. Some owners hang the dusky fruits like decorative garlands from the shop’s awning.
Checking for Ripeness in Lychee
Choose pink or fully red lychees, as the white or greenish ones are still unripe. Lychee’s bumpy skin should be leathery and pliable, similar to a longan’s. Avoid cracked fruit or lychees with watery, bruised skin.
Lychee’s skin becomes brown for two reasons: spoilage, and refrigeration. If the brown-skinned fruits have been sitting in cool storage, they may be edible. If a shop is selling brown-skinned fruits and they’ve been sitting at room temperature, however, they’re likely spoiled. Look at the skin for an additional clue: as lychees become overripe, the texture flattens.
Taste of Lychee
Lychees are sweet, juicy, robust, and have a brighter taste than their cousin, the longan. Comparisons of lychee’s sticky flesh have been made to grapes and pears, though die-hard lychee fans will assert that lychees have a wholly unique taste of their own.
Lychee’s fragrance is floral and musky, and its texture resembles longans and grapes: gelatinous yet crisp, creamy, and juicy.
Canned lychees retain their sweetness and texture, but the fruit’s floral undertones get replaced with a homogenized syrupy flavor. When possible, buy fresh.
Dried lychees resemble raisins.
Nutritional Value of Lychee
According to the USDA nutrient database, 100g of edible lychee contains the following values:
16.5g Carb (6% RDI)
1.3g Fiber (5% RDI)
.4g Fat (1% RDI)
.8g Protein (2% RDI)
71.5mg Vitamin C (119% RDI)
.1mg Riboflavin (4% RDI)
.6mg Niacin (3% RDI)
.1mg Vitamin B6 (5% RDI)
14mcg Folate (3% RDI)
31mg Phosphorous (3% RDI)
171mg Potassium (5% RDI)
.1mg Copper (7% RDI)
.1mg Manganese (3% RDI)
Health Benefits of Lychee
Lychee has several benefits outlined in traditional Chinese medicine. It is known for its heat qualities, which boost blood circulation and ward off blood diseases. Its warming properties also improve stomach ailments, sluggish circulation, and insomnia.
In Ayurveda, the book, “Ayurvedic Curative Cuisine for Everyone” explains lychees are cooling and assist with ulcer health, the digestive, excretory and reproductive systems. In India, tea made with ground lychee seeds treats pain and nerve inflammation.
Lychees have several pharmaceutical benefits unveiled by the scientific community:
--The journal, Molecular Medicine Reports published a study touting lychee’s protection against cardiovascular diseases due to its antiplatelet, anticoagulant and thrombolytic agents.
--The Internet Journal of Alternative Medicine published a study from scientists in India illustrating lychee’s hepatoprotective properties, making it a fruit good for the liver.
--According to a study published in Journal of Functional Foods, lychee flowers are a potent source of antioxidants with properties that decreased liver lipid levels, combatted liver damage and reduced inflammation.
--The National Cancer Institute Cancer Chemotherapy Screening Program found anticancer activities in lychee fruit when tested in rats.
How to Open/Cut:
Open lychees by peeling their leathery skin and exposing the white, opaque pulp. Because the fruit does not stick to the peel, it’s easy to crack the skin and extricate the globule fruit. Like longans, lychees also have a large, oblong shiny brown seed. If using the fruit in a recipe, simply use a paring knife to cut the fruit in half, and remove the seed.
If eating out of hand, one common tactic is to peel only half the skin, and then suck the fruit from the shell.
At room temperature, lychees will last for 2-3 days. Because the fruit requires humid conditions, wrap in a paper towel and set in a bowl. Lychees are highly perishable and do not ripen once picked from the tree; thus, they’ll ferment quickly.
Their shelf life in cold storage is 3-4 weeks. To extend lychee’s shelf life, do not pluck them from the branch.
Lychees can be placed in a plastic bag and stored in the freezer. In frozen conditions, the fruits last up to six months.
|Vegan lychee panacotta (amazing!) from|
Lychee Recipe Ideas and Uses:
--Make a classic lychee martini. The fruit mixes well with rose water and vodka.
--Create another lychee-based cocktail with gin or sake, and lemongrass. Also add the fruit juice to champagne, rum or chardonnay. Pair with the juice of raspberries, pomegranates, or strawberries.
--Make a mocktail by adding shaved ice, pureed lychee, and lemon or orange juice. Add a sprig of mint, or a hint of thyme.
--Make coconut milk ice cream and add lychee pulp.
--Use lychee’s sweet juice as a way to accentuate the lemon zest in stir-fries.
--Make a gelee with lychee juice and passion fruit.
--Use lychee in a savory dish by including halved lychees in the last 10 minutes of roast recipes. Substitute lychee in recipes calling for grilled pineapple.
--Make a dessert of deep fried lychees served with sesame seeds, and caramel or chocolate sauce.
--Use finely blended lychee pulp to make popsicles: add it with coconut and lime for a refreshing combination.
--Make lychee cream for use on cakes by whipping refrigerated coconut cream and finely ground cashew nut powder. Add sugar whilst whipping. Next, add finely blended chilled lychee pulp and continue to whip until smooth.
--Create an innovative panna cotta recipe by simmering coconut milk, sugar, vanilla, and a hint of salt for roughly 10 minutes. Remove from the stove and stir lychee pulp into the concoction. Add the pre-dissolved gelatin, transfer to molds, and refrigerate for 5 hours or until set.
|Lychee smoothie from|
Longan, grape, mangosteen, strawberry, raspberry, cactus pear, dragon fruit, persimmon, pomegranate, orange, kumquat, lemon, lime, pineapple, papaya, coconut, nungu, kiwi, passion fruit, guava, feijoa
Herbs, spices, and oil: rose, vanilla, sugar, chocolate, coconut milk, mint, thyme, cinnamon, ginger, lemon juice, limejuice, lemongrass, orange juice, champagne, white wine, vodka
Lychees are a symbol of love: In the Tang dynasty circa 700AD, Hsuang Tsung arranged frequent shipping of fresh lychees for his concubine, Lady Yang Kuei Fei. Lychee trees still stand in tribute to her today in Guangdong Province.
“Lee chee” means, “gift for a joyful life.”