Litchis, sometimes spelled lychees, are a type of subtropical fruit that are native to southern China. Although not widely known outside of Asia, litchis are becoming increasingly popular in the United States. They have a sweet and slightly acidic flavor that many compare to grapes and notes of guava or rose, as well as an unusual, bumpy exterior.
Litchis are most often enjoyed fresh, though you might also find them canned or used as a dessert ingredient. It might come as a surprise that these popular fruits have a fascinating history, which goes back many centuries.
What is a Litchi?
Litchi (Litchi chinensis) is a tropical and subtropical species of Sapindaceae, or soapberry. It’s a medium-sized deciduous tree that typically grows up to 10m tall. For the most part, litchis are characterized by their unique, inedible red outer layer that surrounds a juicy and sweet white inner flesh. Unfortunately, its red skin is often discarded when eaten fresh, which is a shame, considering that it has a delicious flavor.
The flavor of litchi is difficult to characterize, as it has a delicate sweetness that’s often compared to grapes or guava. Additionally, its smooth, slightly acidic white flesh has notes of rose or nutmeg. In some cases, you might also detect a slight hint of lemon. This exotic flavor is one of the primary reasons why litchis are so popular.
History of Litchis
Litchis are believed to have originated in southern China, and the Chinese have been cultivating them for many centuries. Subsequently, litchis were distributed throughout southeast Asia. Through trade routes, the subtropical fruit eventually reached Thailand, Indonesia, India, Nepal, and Vietnam.
In the 1800s, litchis were introduced to the United States, primarily in Florida and California. However, since litchis grow in areas with a humid climate and year-round sun, most of the production is still based in Asia.
Today, litchis continue to be widely consumed in south and southeast Asia. Additionally, due to improvements in the transportation system, they have become increasingly available in other parts of the world, especially the United States.
Nutritional Value of Litchis
Like other fruits and vegetables, litchis are low in fat and incredibly rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. One serving size contains 94 grams of carbohydrates, 0.5 grams of fat, and 2 grams of dietary fiber. It’s also a great source of the B vitamin folate, as well as the minerals copper and magnesium.
Additionally, litchis are rich in polyphenols, which are plant chemicals that can help reduce inflammation and protect against oxidative damage. A small study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that litchis possess a significantly higher antioxidant capacity than apples, oranges, and other commonly-consumed fruits.
How to Eat Litchis
Litchis can be enjoyed just as they are! They’re often enjoyed with a sprinkling of salt to balance out the sweetness, or you can dip them in a bit of freshly-squeezed lemon juice. You can also use them to make delicious desserts or smoothies.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try pickling them or using them in a savory dish, like a stir-fry. In China, litchis are sometimes paired with savory dishes like salty pork and ham, or even cooked in a savory soup.
Whether you opt for fresh or canned litchis, you’ll get a sweet and slightly acidic taste that is perfect for an exotic summer treat. With their numerous health benefits and unique flavor, it’s no wonder that litchis continue to be popular around the world.