Litchi nut, lychee, lit-chi, leechee, Chinese hazel, Dawa nut, litchi (French/German/Portuguese), litsi (Greek), euforia (Italian), mamoncillo/chino (Spanish), lichi (Hindi/Bengali/Malay), lin chi (Thai), klengkeng (Indonesian), li zhi (Chinese), reishi/raichi (Japanese)
(Litchi chinensis formerly Nephelium litchi — Family Sapindaceae)
Litchi fruits are a little over an inch in diameter and have a leathery, scaly, warty, reddish coat that resembles a strawberry, but having a thin, papery outer shell. Within, is a central smooth, hard-shelled seed surrounded by a delicious, whitish, jelly-like pulp.
The fruit is red when ripe but turns brownish during shipping. The sweet, fragrant flesh is wrapped around a large inedible dark brown seed, although some varieties contain tiny abortive seeds; but only the pulp is eaten.
Consequently, the term litchi nut is a misnomer as the hard nut or seed within the dried pulp is inedible. The flavour of the fruit resembles that of a raisin or a muscat grape.
Litchis are borne by a large evergreen tree and will only fruit in a subtropical or tropical climate where there is a distinct dry season. Cultivation now spreads along a narrow belt of suitable climate through Thailand to Bangladesh and northern India.
The Bengal region is especially productive. Its crop has now become larger than that of China. South Africa is now also a major producer, as well as Hawaii and New Caledonia.
In China, litchis are considered the finest of delicacies and a symbol of romance ever since the time of T’ang Emperor Hsüsan Tsung, who ruled from BCE 712-5.
A special courier service, with teams of swift horses, was set up to deliver the fresh fruits hundreds of miles from Canton north to the Imperial court for his consort, the Lady Yang Kuei Fei.
For over twenty years, this consort ruled the Emperor’s judgments and emotions, much to the dismay of her enemies, including the royal bodyguards, who one day cornered the two and forced the Lady Yang to hang herself from an old pear tree.
After two years in exile, the emperor was allowed to return, but there is no mention whether he continued with the lichi import.
Canned litchis are sold, and often served as a dessert, in Chinese restaurants; but they have none of the fragrance, flavour, or subtlety of the fresh fruit.
The fresh fruit travels well if picked just before it is fully ripe. They are also dried whole, causing the skin to become distorted, releasing the seed inside so that it rattles when shaken.
These fruits were so popular in ancient China that one poet boasted of limiting himself to just 300 per day while others were eating as many as a thousand. Obviously, anything eaten to that magnitude can cause stomach upsets, so it is wise to limit their intake – whatever that means.
Today, they are still more popular than many other fruits.
Litchis are best eaten raw as a refreshing end to a meal. Diners then simply remove the shells and nibble or suck the flesh from the seeds.
Lychees can be added to fruit salads or poached in a lemon-flavoured syrup and served chilled with ice cream or other fruits. They are also used in such savoury dishes as sweet and sour or with avocado in salads.
Lychees are rich in Vitamin C and should be chosen when the shells are as pink or red as possible.
Greenish fruits are under-ripe and brown fruits are past their prime. Although the shells act as protection, lychees dry out quickly and so too many should not be purchased at one time, but will keep up to a week in a refrigerator.
Evidence-based healing benefits of Lychee/Litchi