Lychee: a celestial fruit
Lychee fruit, which originated in China, has been cultivated for over three millennia. Its name is composed of two characters, li and tchi (荔枝), its scientific name is Litchi chinensis and it is one of the rare fruits to be pronounced almost identically in all languages, with one notable exception: the American pronunciation is ‘Lee Tchee’, while the British say ‘Lye Tchee’. The Spanish ambassador to China, Gonzàlez de Mendoza, wrote in the 16th Century that he considered it to be “the most delicious fruit of the Celestial Empire”. Highly appreciated by the royal dynasties, beginning with the Hans in the 1st Century, it was delivered from faraway provinces to the capital by carefully selected fast horses, in particular for the pleasure of the royal concubine Yang Yuhuan, known as one the Four Beauties of ancient China, the favorite of Emperor Li in the 8th Century. La ‘cerise de Chine’, (cherry of China) as it was called in old French, was known and appreciated in Europe since the Renaissance in a candied form and today, this sweet remains the most consumed treat during the Chinese New Year. In Europe, the lychee, usually eaten fresh, has also become a staple of the winter festive season. Naturally gelatinous and juicy, with its aromas of roses and muscat, the fruit grows in bunches of about 20 fruits in trees that can rise to 20 or 30 meters (up to 100 feet). Essentially used for desserts in the West, it is often served with savory dishes, including fish and meat, in many Asian countries.