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Most children love these juicy fruits that taste as good as sweets or candies - but are a thousand times more healthy for them to eat. Usually round or slightly egg shaped and the size of a walnut shell, the lychee has a thick textured skin that pops open to reveal a glistening, moist and translucent ball of almost jelly-like flesh covering a shiny brown seed. Children enjoy opening lychees and they make the perfect lunchbox accompaniment.
The lychee is a fruit native to China that grows well in humid, subtropical climates free of frost and can now be found in Florida, USA, Natal in South Africa, Queensland in Australia and elsewhere.
These delicious fruit treats also offer several health benefits
- Lychee fruits are low in calories, contain no saturated fats or cholesterol, but are rich in dietary fiber which can be very important for those individuals concerned about excess body weight.
- Rich in vitamin C (as much as 49mg per 100g) and a good source of dietary fiber, eating a few lychees can also help to soothe an irritating cough. The consumption of any fruits rich in vitamin C assists the body to develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals.
- Lychees are a good source of potassium, calcium, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, zinc, iron and selenium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids, helping control heart rate and blood pressure to offer protection against stroke and coronary heart diseases. Copper is necessary for the production of red blood cells while calcium, phosphorus and magnesium help growing bones.
Lychees nourish the skin's oils, often helping to reduce the appearance of acne - if eaten in moderation.
- Lychees are 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.
How lychees grow
When cultivated, lychees are produced on tropical evergreen trees which grow to ten to twelve metres. The parent trees have a short trunk with low spreading branches. Their shiny, leathery, green leaves are composed of several smaller long, thin leaflets which are grouped together in pairs. Long sprays of green-white to green-yellow flowers turn into bunches of fruit following fertilization.
The bunches of lychees are harvested by hand when ripe and often ladders are needed especially on the older, taller trees. Lychees are ready for harvesting in early summer.
Choosing, storing and preparation
When choosing this fruit at your local produce store, select those with fresh looking, firm skin without any cuts or molds and with some stem still attached. Lychees do not ripen after harvesting so the skins should be a robust red rather than green. Litchis have a very good shelf life as fresh fruits can be kept at room temperature for up to five days and can be stored for up five weeks in the refrigerator. They can also be frozen or dried and canned for export purposes. Easy to prepare by just breaking open the skins to reveal the delicious contents ready to pop into the mouth.
Make sure you give your family this juicy treat the next time lychees are in season in your part of the world.