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Prickly Cherries? Alligator Strawberries?

June 3, 2016, 8:18 AM HST
* Updated June 3, 8:23 AM
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lychee

Lychee. Big Island Now stock photo. May 2016

No, it’s not a prickly cherry, but they are known in the South as “alligator strawberries.”

Some call it litchi nut, some spell it litchi, lizhi, lychee or lichee. But whatever you call and however you spell it and pronounce it, you’ll have to agree with the Chinese—it must have been sent here by the gods!

Translated from the Chinese language, lychee means “gift for a joyful life”.

While it’s gained popularity in recent years amongst the Western world, lychee has a history that goes way back in China— to about 1059 AD.

There is something to be said about the joys of eating fresh lychee, that’s for sure. Many locals covet the sweet, succulent fruit that appears at the farmers markets or pops up at roadside vendors during late spring and during the summer months.

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If you’ve never tried lychee, it may seem a little weird or appear alien-looking to you at first.

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The easiest way to peel a lychee is to use your thumbnail to break the peel. There is thin membrane under the peel that may stick to the flesh and may need to be peeled off before eating it.

Some may prefer using their teeth to puncture the peel, but note that sometimes it leaves a slightly bitter taste in your mouth.

Once you peel off the bumpy outer shell, you will enjoy the slippery, translucent white flesh of the fruit.

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Beware of the little black inedible seed in the middle of the fruit, as it may present a choking hazard.

However you decide to peel it, you will find that it is not fast enough for you once you taste this sweet, aromatic fruit.

Lychee has been used in many forms and is available in the can; however, during the canning process, lychee lose their intense flavor and aroma. It is better to enjoy them fresh.

They are a natural addition to fruit salads and desserts. Try them in a spinach chicken salad for a little added sweetness or even in your Asian stir fry. There are endless possibilities for using them in your next cocktail—both alcohol-laden and alcohol-free.

A great source of vitamin C, on average, consuming just nine lychees gives an adult their daily recommended dose.

Studies in China have shown that lychee prevents cancer cells from growing and is also good for the skin and bones. It is also shown to alleviate some symptoms associated with the common cold, throat ailments and even reduce fevers. Plus, lychees are also low in sodium and saturated fat, making it an all around great fruit for those health conscience people.

The first lychee plant brought to Hawai‘i was imported from China in 1873 by Ching Chock and planted on O‘ahu.

Although it is now found all over the state, lychee does well in wetter climates. One does not have to look far to find one in Hilo.

It is a favorite fruit here in the islands and is even talked about in Mr. San Cho Lee, a favorite song by Keola and Kapono Beamer.

And remember, if you get plenty lychee, sharing is always a great way to make someone’s day!

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