Growing up, as I recollected in my earliest memories of going out to Chinese restaurants with my family, aside from Fortune Cookies, dessert choices were limited to either ice cream (pistachio, vanilla, or chocolate), or lychee nuts. Now, I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine any kid choosing lychee nuts as a dessert. But, invariably that’s what my Uncle and Grandmother always chose. And they always loved them. I couldn’t even stand to look at them, much less try them. And they loved their lychee nuts so much, after dinner we usually walked around Chinatown and they would stop at one of the shops and pick up a bottle to take home. To me they looked like figs in thick syrup. Not very appetizing looking at all. They looked like the picture to the right.
But, what did I know? I was very finicky growing up. No way would I try them. No way did I care if they could possibly even taste good. Much less did I care if there actually good for you.
Wouldn’t you know it… as we grow up, we expand our palates. And dare I say, we try to eat healthy foods. And a healthy dessert? How could that even be possible? So, much to my surprise did I learn of, as I researched, the goodness (taste-wise and health-wise) of the magical lychee nut! Please let me share what I discovered with you. (Between you and I, I still haven’t tried one! But, I just may. Some day!)
Most Americans are only familiar with lychee as an item on the dessert menu at Chinese restaurants. Often erroneously called “lychee nuts,” the fruit is indigenous to China and popular for snacking or desserts. On the tree, it is protected by a bumpy, leathery rind that is inedible. This rind easily comes away from the juicy flesh of the fruit, which is translucent and a pearly white color. It is sweet and crispy, and many people enjoy eating it fresh.
This fruit is a rich source of vitamin C, as well as calcium, potassium and phosphorus. It is often used in cooking to flavor a meat dish, much like pineapple or raisins are used to flavor a ham. The fruit is also pressed for juice, and pulped to make a sherbet dish which is very popular in China. It is also used to flavor tea.
The lychee is native to low elevations of the provinces of Kwangtung and Fukien in Southern China. Cultivation spread over the years through neighboring areas of southeastern Asia and offshore islands. It reached Hawaii in 1873, and Florida in 1883, and was conveyed from Florida to California in 1897
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.
The fruit is covered by a leathery rind which is pink to strawberry-red in color and rough in texture. The Fruit shape is oval, heart-shaped or nearly round, 1 to 1-1/2 inches in length. The edible portion, or aril, is white, translucent, firm and juicy. The flavor is sweet, fragrant and delicious. Inside the aril is a seed that varies considerably in size. The most desirable varieties contain atrophied seeds which are called “chicken tongue” (are you surprised at all now why I refused to try them??).
The lychee tree is handsome, dense, round-topped and slow-growing with smooth, gray, brittle trunk and limbs. Under ideal conditions they may reach 40 feet high, but they are usually much smaller. The tree in full fruit is a stunning sight. There are trees in San Diego, California that are over 90 years old with no sign of decline in sight. It first fruited in Santa Barbara in 1914.
Health benefits of Lychee Nuts
Lychee fruit contains 66 calories per 100 grams, 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.
Lychee, 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.
Lychee nuts 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.
So along with an apple a day, add in some lychee nuts, and really keep the doctor away!
Humbly submitted for your consumption,
—Mee Magnum (“Chop! Chop!”)