Interesting Facts About Lychees

11 Interesting Facts About Lychees

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Introduction

The lychee is a tropical fruit that originated in southern China. Also known as litchi or lichi, these small, round fruits have a sweet flavor and aroma. Their reddish outer skin surrounds translucent, juicy flesh and a single seed.

Lychees have become increasingly popular around the world, not only for their delicious taste, but also for their potential health benefits. They are packed with vitamin C, antioxidants, fiber, and other important nutrients. Additionally, research suggests they may offer anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and cardioprotective effects.

Below are 11 fascinating facts about the origins, cultivation, uses, and health impacts of lychees:

Facts About Lychees

Lychee
Lychee by Philippe Vieux-Jeanton is licensed under CC0 1.0 .
  1. Lychees are native to Asia
    • Lychees originated in the region between southern China, Vietnam, and Malaysia.
    • They have been cultivated in China for over 2,000 years. Chinese records from 1059 AD mention lychees as a beloved fruit of the Imperial Court.
    • Today, China remains the largest producer, followed by India, Taiwan, and Thailand.
  2. Lychee trees can grow over 100 feet tall
    • In tropical climates with warm weather year-round, lychee trees can reach heights of 115 feet or more.
    • It generally takes 5-8 years for them to begin fruiting. The peak fruiting period is May-July in Asia and December-February in subtropical regions.
    • Lychee trees can live over 100 years. Some ancient trees in China are over 700 years old!
  3. The lychee fruit has a unique appearance
    • Enclosed by a pinkish-red, leathery rind, the edible flesh of the lychee fruit is translucent white or yellowish.
    • Its texture is gelatinous and juicy with a sweet, perfumed flavor.
    • The skin should be fully red before picking lychees. Under-ripe green fruit will not continue to ripen after harvest.
  4. You can eat lychees fresh or dried
    • Fresh lychees are commonly consumed raw as a snack or dessert. Their refreshing sweetness makes them quite addicting!
    • In Asia, dried lychee flesh and seeds are used in soups and stir fries. Drying condenses the sugars and enhances the sweet, rosy flavor.
  5. Lychees may help fight cancer
    • Test-tube studies demonstrate that compounds in lychee, such as polyphenols, exhibit anti-cancer activities by inhibiting tumor growth and inducing cancer cell death.
    • One study gave mice with liver cancer lychee seed extract. It significantly reduced tumor size and growth rate.
    • More research is needed, but these results are promising for lychees’ anti-cancer potential.
  6. Lychees offer cardiovascular benefits
    • Animal studies reveal that lychee extract relaxes blood vessels, lowers blood pressure, and improves circulation.
    • Antioxidants in lychees likely protect the heart. Flavonoids prevent LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and damaging blood vessels.
    • A study in China found that people who ate lychees regularly had a 13% lower heart disease risk compared to non-consumers.
  7. The seeds and skin contain toxins
    • Lychee seeds contain methylenecyclopropylglycine (MCPG), which can cause hypoglycemia and nerve damage if eaten in large quantities.
    • The skin also contains small amounts of MCPG. Eating a few lychees is not harmful, but the seeds and skin should always be avoided, especially by children.
  8. Lychees are packed with immune-boosting vitamin C
    • One lychee fruit provides 71.5 mg of vitamin C. This meets and exceeds the recommended daily intake for adults (75-90 mg).
    • Vitamin C has powerful antioxidant activities that protect cells from damage. It also supports immune function and iron absorption.
  9. You can grow lychee trees at home
    • Lychee trees make a beautiful addition to gardens in frost-free regions with hot summers.
    • They require acidic, nutrient-rich soil and prefer sheltered locations protected from wind and cold.
    • For the best fruit production, lychee trees need warm weather and high humidity with reliable rainfall.
  10. There are many lychee varieties
    • Over 100 lychee cultivars exist, with varying sizes, flavors, seed sizes, and harvest times.
    • Popular varieties include Brewster, Mauritius, Kwai May Pink, and Tai So.
    • The Mauritius lychee is one of the sweetest. Its large fruit has tender flesh and small seeds.
  11. Lychees continue ripening after harvest
    • Unlike some fruits, lychees undergo a unique post-harvest ripening process.
    • The fruit requires 1-2 days at room temperature to complete ripening and develop its characteristic intense sweetness.
    • To prevent spoilage, lychees should be refrigerated after optimal ripeness is reached.
Bundles of Lychee Fruit in Containers

FAQ

What is the scientific classification of the lychee?

Lychee belongs to the plant kingdom, the order Sapindales, and the family Sapindaceae. Its scientific name is Litchi chinensis.


Where is the lychee tree native to?

The lychee tree is native to South China, Malaysia, and northern Vietnam. It has been introduced throughout Southeast Asia and South Asia.

How long does it take for a lychee fruit to mature?

Lychee fruits mature in 80–112 days depending on climate, location, and cultivar. They vary in shape from round to ovoid to heart-shaped, up to 5 cm long and 4 cm wide, and weigh approximately 20 g.

What are some popular cultivars of lychee?

Some popular cultivars of lychee include Sanyuehong, Baitangying, Baila, Shuidong, Feizixiao, Dazou, Heiye, Nuomici, Guiwei, Huaizhi, Lanzhu, and Chenzi in China, and Mauritius, Brewster, and Hak Ip in the US.

Are there any health concerns related to lychee consumption?

Yes, lychee seeds contain methylene cyclopropyl glycine which has caused hypoglycemia associated with outbreaks of encephalopathy in undernourished Indian and Vietnamese children who consumed lychee fruit. It is recommended that children limit lychee consumption and have an evening meal to elevate blood glucose levels and deter illness.

Conclusion

From its origins in southern China to its global popularity today, the lychee fruit remains a uniquely delicious and nutritious food. Lychees not only satisfy sweet cravings, but also provide antioxidants, vitamin C, and other beneficial plant compounds. Emerging research suggests they may even help fight cancer, heart disease, and inflammation. With so many potential perks packed into this petite fruit, lychees are one superfood worth savoring.


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