THAILAND IS BLESSED with a large variety of wonderful and delicious fruits which abound in different seasons of the year. And May is the month of the delectable litchee, or lynchee – as the Thai call it. This juicy, refreshing fruit combines the subtle aroma of good quality grapes with its own uniquely delicious flavor. The lynchee is known to have been cultivated in China for the past 4,000 years. The name is derived from the Chinese word lee chee which means “one who gives the pleasures of life”.
Another theory has the fruit originating in the ancient kingdom of Annam, which is now central Vietnam. It did not penetrate the Southeast Asian mainland until the 17th century but made it first reported appearance in northern Thailand in the early 18th century.
Though it is now grown in tropical uplands all over the world and the canned variety is marketed almost everywhere. Lynchee is very exacting in its climatic and soil requirements. It prefers a rich, wet and acid soil for ideal growth, and requires cool winter air for bountiful flowering and fruiting, followed by a hot and humid season for good growth and fruit bearing.
A brief strong cold period is essential prior to the flowering of the lynchee tree, and without the blossoms there is no fruit. It also requires a hot and humid periodfor healthy growth. It has a tolerance for wet soils and is more comfortable in soil with a low pH level, and preferably a soil containing a fungus which aids the roots of the lynchee tree in growth and propogation fruit.
For these reasons, lynchee is grown almost exclusively in the northern provinces of Chiangmai, Chiangrai and Phayao, where these conditions are to be found. Some lynchee is grown in the Northeast when the conditions are right, and there is a heat-tolerant variety grown in Amphawa district of Samoot Songkram, west of Bangkok, but lynchee aficionados will tell you the northern type is the best by far. The three main varieties grown all originated in China, and have names reflective of their homeland: Hong Huay, Ow Hia and Gim Jeng.
Lynchee farms can be readily recoqnized by their lustrous, dark green, spreading bushy trees. The flowers are unremarkable, but once the fruits have set, the trees become transformed. At first the fruit bunches resemble handfuls of cotton buds of a very pale pink. But as the fruits swell and weigh down the branches, these buds darken to the rich maroon-to-brown skin of the mature crop. During this growth phase, the trees require a plentiful supply of water to reach juicy perfection.
The thin, rumpled outer skin conceals a white, juicy, succulent pulp which surrounds a single shiny brown seed. Once the fruit has been picked, it must be marketed and eaten within four days if its full flavor is to be enjoyed. Surplus fruit may be canned or dried for future use, but nothing quite compares with the delicacy of taste and texture of the fresh fruit. The Chinese have long considered the lynchee to be a symbol of love and romance; a gift of ripe lynchee fruit was considered tantamount to a proposal of marriage. On a less romantic level, the delicious lynchee make very good eating for the health concious, since the fruit is high in natural sugars, and one fruit alone contains over 20% of the daily human Vitamin C requirement.
Lynchee has rich nutrition values, 100 gm. lynchee would give 14.3 carbohydrate, 50 mg. Vitamin C, 0.4 gm. Fat, 29 mg. Phosphorus, 0.2 gm. fiber, 10 mg. Calcium, 0.8 gm. Protein, 0.6 mg. Niacin, 0.3 mg. Iron, 0.05 mg. Vitamin B1, 0.06 mg. Vitamin B2.
The northern lynchee crop is picked in the month of May, and, as is typical here in the North, there are many festivals to celebrate this glorious harvest. Each province has its own celebration: a festival in Phayao, festivities in the Fang District of Chiangmai, and a fair in Chiangrai. Each festival will feature traditional music and dance, competitions among growers and displays of lynchee products.
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