The Lychee is the sole member of the genus Litchi in the soapberry family, Sapindaceae.
It is a tropical tree native to the Guangdong and Fujian provinces of China, where cultivation is documented from 1059 AD. China is the main producer of lychees, followed by India, other countries in Southeast Asia, the Indian Subcontinent and South Africa.
A tall evergreen tree, the lychee bears small fleshy fruits. The outside of the fruit is pink-red, roughly textured and inedible, covering sweet flesh eaten in many different dessert dishes. Since the perfume-like flavor is lost in the process of canning, the fruit is usually eaten fresh.
Availability: November through January
Lychee fruit contains 66 calories per 100 g, 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 antioxidant and anti-influenza virus actions. Also, it helps improve blood flow to organs, reduce weight, and protect skin from harmful UV rays. (Takuya Sakurai (Kyorin University, Japan), Biosci. Biotechnol. Biochem., 72(2), 463-476, 2008).
Litchi, 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 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.
Litchi also carries many 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 required in the production of red blood cells.