Disclaimer: There are many health claims attributed to lychee supplements, diets, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) but the information contained in this blog specifically and only relates to the nutritional benefits of consuming the fresh lychee edible fruit portion known as aril. Thank you.
LET’S DISH ABOUT LYCHEE
The Lychee (Litchi chinensis) is part of the sapindaceae (soapberry) family, native to Southern China, and has grown there for over 2,000 years. Today, lychee grows all over the world and, in the United States (U.S.), they are mainly grown in California, Texas, Hawaii, and Southern Florida.
When spoken in English, you will hear it pronounced as either Lie-chee or Lee-chee depending on where the person pronouncing originates from or currently lives. When spoken in Chinese it is pronounced as Lee-chee. When written, on items such as food labels or marketing, you may see it as litchi, lychee, liche, lizhi, li zhi, lichee, and other variations.
Ripe lychees are pink or reddish colored fruits with a rough, leathery inedible skin, and an inedible seed (see photo above). The edible inside, called aril, is the treasure described as a transparent white nut shape (see photo below) that is sweet, firm (like a grape), juicy, and has a very distinct flavor. Some varieties, such as the Mauritius, are described as having a tart taste with a fragrance similar to a rose perfume.
There are many varieties of lychee, which ripen at different times throughout the year. The varieties grown in the U.S. are typically available May to later summer. Lychee is exported and imported all around the world, so in places like the U.S., they are usually available throughout the year at bigger grocery stores. For example, last week my local grocer had lychee imported from India.
Lychee Nutrition Benefits and Facts
Lychees are a great source of fiber and potassium. They provide 113% of the Vitamin C DRI (dietary reference intake) for women 19 years and older that are not pregnant or lactating. They’re full of many vitamins and minerals such as, but not limited to: iron, beta carotene, folate, manganese, copper, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. These all play vital roles in the non-stop biochemical processes within the body.
Serving size: ½ cup (95 grams) raw, fresh lychee
0.8 gram Protein
1.2 gram Fiber
0.50 gram Fat
16 grams Carbohydrate
68 milligrams Vitamin C
162 milligrams Potassium
Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
In 2013, Prevention magazine included lychee in their list of 50 healthiest foods for women because lychees have an incredibly high concentration of polyphenols as well as many vitamins and minerals. Polyphenols benefit the body because they are powerful antioxidants that prevent or neutralize free radical damage.
Free radicals are continually formed in our bodies as a result of normal cellular function/metabolism. Unfortunately, when there is an overabundance of free radicals built up in the cells, they can damage DNA, lipids, and proteins. This damage, also known as oxidative stress, could increase the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and many other diseases.
As a Registered Dietitian, I am dedicated to only using science based evidence as the basis of any and all nutrition related discussions, education, and/or recommendations. I caution anyone considering using any nutrition based supplements to fully and thoroughly investigate the claims, the studies behind the claims (e.g. if the studies were conducted on humans or animals; who funded the study; who benefitted from the study; was it reported in a credible journal; how many studies were completed, etc.), and, last but not least, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Having said that, there are many appropriate and safe products on the market today, it is simply up to us (the consumer) to be informed and aware of what we’re choosing to use and why.
Please be aware that, as mentioned in the disclaimer at the start of this blog, lychee is being used to market many health related products and, very often, you will see the polyphenol properties listed as one of the reasons it will be effective. Products and claims I’ve seen in ads using lychee on the internet have ranged from, but are not limited to: diet pills, diet drinkable shots, weight loss diet programs, fat burning, metabolism boosting, thermogenesis promoting, slowing the aging process, diabetes control, insulin resistance improvement, and many other health claims.
Additionally, oligonol was listed on some product sites as a polyphenol strictly derived from the lychee. However, when you search for the definition of oligonol you can only find it capitalized or written like this, Oligonol ®. This is your first clue that it is a product, and not just an antioxidant because it is capitalized with an encircled R next to it. This denotes a registered trademark and tells us it is a product. The company’s website states the following: “Oligonol is a patented, low-molecular-weight polyphenol derived from lychee fruit (85%) and green tea (15%)….” Source: http://maypro.com/products/oligonol. This tells us that it is not strictly derived from the lychee. Finally, some of the studies about the benefits of Oligonol contained conflict of interest statements due to the study investigators working for the company that develops and manufactures the Oligonol product specifically used in the study.
Choosing, Consuming, Storing, & Preparing Lychee
Once picked, lychees do not continue to ripen. If picked too soon, the sweet factor is lowered because the natural sugars are prevented from increasing during ripening. Many people report that eating a unripened lychee leaves a bad taste in your mouth and may stop someone from ever trying it again. Additionally, some people think that lychee continue to ripen after being picked because, when they are refrigerated for long periods of time, lychee start to taste sweeter. This is actually due to moisture loss over time, which results in an increase of the sugar concentration in the lychee.
When looking for ripe lychees, look for somewhat heart-shaped ones that are approximately 1 ½ inches wide, have a dark pink to a reddish-purple color and flattened out, smoother, bumps (see above photo).
Firmly press on the skin at the end of a ripe lychee to break it open or use your fingernail to break the skin. Then tear the skin away until it is fully peeled or it will simply slide out of the skin. Then, using your finger or utensil, dig the seed out of the center, discard the seed and eat the sweet fruit. The button below is a link to a cute YouTube about how to peel and eat a fresh lychee.
There are many recommendations for storing lychee but the following ones were what I found most often : Wrap it in plastic and store at room temperature for 2 – 3 days or refrigerate for 5 – 7 days. It can be wrapped in plastic or put in plastic bags and frozen for up to 6 months or dried and left in the shells for up to 6 months.
After being peeled and pitted, lychee is often stuffed, pickled, canned, baked, grilled, frozen, and dried. They are used in cocktails, to make wine, desserts, jams, jellies, marmalades, sauces and much more.
The button below is a link to recipes for using lychee in cooking, baking, beverage making and so much more.
I hope to see you next week. Enjoy!