Lychee, Litchi sinensis, is a tropical and sub-tropical fruit that comes from a mid-sized evergreen tree that has leaves that are coppery in color when they first appear, and that turn bright green when mature. The fruit is an ovoid drupe a few inches in size, covered with a rough, red inedible rind that is easily removed. The fruit itself is translucent white and delicious. There is one brown seed in the center.
The lychee is native to low elevations of the provinces of Kwangtung and Fukien in Southern China. Cultivation spread over the years through neighboring areas of southeastern Asia and offshore islands. It reached Hawaii in 1873, and Florida in 1883, and was brought to California from Florida in 1897. Madagascar is a primary exporter of lychees.
Lychee grows best where there are warm, but not excessively hot, humid summers, and it needs some chill for the fruits to set well, but does not tolerate frost. The fruits are very high in vitamin C, potassium, phosphorous, copper and thiamine. They are low in fat. The lychee is primarily a dessert fruit, and is also made into juice and ice cream.
My grandmother, who lived in Cleveland, Ohio, made a salad containing canned lychees. She stuffed the lychees with cream cheese, and served them on a bed of butter lettuce with a vinaigrette and lots of paprika. I’m sure she never had them fresh, which is too bad as fresh lychees are far more amazing and flavorful than the canned. Lychees are purchased fresh in markets in Southeast Asia and are available fresh in Asian markets in the U.S. when in-season.
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