The litchi, or lichee, is perhaps the most well known of several fruits from northern Thailand, all having a similar general structure and taste. Without their woody stems attached, the litchi fruit could almost be mistaken for a strawberry. The color and texture of the outer skin is quite similar, although the skin of the litchi is somewhat leathery and inedible. Peeling the skin reveals a white juicy flesh with a single large seed in the middle.

Bunches of litchi on sale in the market.

The litchi, like all its relatives, is a seasonal fruit, ripening between May and August. Longans and Rambutan usually peak a few months later. The bulk of Thailand's litchi crop is grown around Chiang Mai's neighbor to the north, Chiang Rai, which was once the "second city" of the Lanna kingdom. Every year around May, Chiang Rai hosts its own "litchi festival" to celebrate the new season's crop.

In the markets, small stems of the ripe red fruits will usually be bound together with other bunches to form large clusters looking like huge bunches of grapes. These will normally weigh around a kilogram, which when the fruit is in season will set you back around a dollar.

Litchis originated in China, where a Cantonese saying has it that "one litchi equals three torches of fire." This refers to the strong "yang" nature of the fruit. You've probably heard of "yin" and "yang" but you might not know that foods could be classified as "yin" - associated with the moon and representing feminine nature – or "yang" - associated with the hot sun and masculine nature. Thus the litchi is thought to "heat" the body, and too much of it could create an "imbalance" in the body's yin and yang.

Weight Information
1 cup 190.0 g
1 fruit without refuse 9.6 g
Nutritional Information for 1 cup
Energy 125.4
Protein 1.577 20.000 8%
Total lipid (fat) 0.836 65.000 1%
Carbohydrate, by difference 31.407 300.000 10%
Fiber, total dietary 2.47 25.000 10%
Calcium, Ca 9.5 1000.000 1%
Iron, Fe 0.589 18.000 3%
Magnesium, Mg 19 400.000 5%
Phosphorus, P 58.9 1000.000 6%
Potassium, K 324.9 3500.000 9%
Sodium, Na 1.9 2400.000 0%
Zinc, Zn 0.133 15.000 1%
Copper, Cu 0.2812 2.000 14%
Manganese, Mn 0.1045 2.000 5%
Selenium, Se 1.14 70.000 2%
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid 135.85 60.000 226%
Thiamin 0.0209 1.500 1%
Riboflavin 0.1235 1.700 7%
Niacin 1.1457 20.000 6%
Vitamin B-6 0.19 2.000 10%
Folate, total 26.6 400.000 7%
Folate, food 26.6 400.000 7%
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) 0.133
Vitamin K (phylloquinone) 0.76 80.000 1%
Fatty acids, total saturated 0.1881 20.000 1%
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated 0.228
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated 0.2508