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Longan: the Asian Fruit with Therapeutic and Culinary Benefits!

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Longan fruit - Dr. Axe

If you’ve ever visited Vietnam, Thailand or China, you may have come across the fruit called longan, a relative of lychee.

Longan is a white-fleshed, juicy fruit with yellow-brown skin that grows in hanging clusters. Each small fruit is about the size of a large olive and is sometimes called a “berry” (although it’s not related to most other berries like blackberries, blueberries, etc.). It’s sold fresh, dried, or canned and is most widely available throughout tropical Asia during warmer months of the year.

What are the benefits of longan fruit? As explained more below, this fruit contains antioxidants and vitamin C, making it beneficial for defending against free radical damage, signs of aging, and potentially common illnesses like colds.

What Is Longan?

Longan (Dimocarpus longan) is a tropical fruit grown mostly throughout China and Southeast Asia. The tree that longan fruit grows on is a member of the soapberry (Sapindaceae) plant family, which includes other fruits like lychee, rambutan, guarana, korlan, pitomba, genip and ackee.

What does longan fruit taste like? It’s described as having a sweet and somewhat “musky” flavor, similar to grapes. Although it’s a tropical fruit, it isn’t as sweet as other popular types like mango, passionfruit or pineapple.

Because it has white flesh with a small brown seed in the inside, some say longan fruits resemble eyes. In fact, longan means “dragon’s eye” in Cantonese, and is still called by this name is some countries. While fresh longan is white and almost translucent, dried longans is dark brown to black.

Longan vs. Lychee

Is longan same as lychee? These two fruits share some similarities, considering they are members of the same plant family, however they come from two different trees. Longan is said to have a drier sweetness similar to dates, while lychees are described as being more aromatic, juicy, and having a slightly more sour sweetness.

Lychee (Litchi chinensis), a fruit grown on an evergreen tree that is native to Southeast Asia, is usually eaten fresh or squeezed to produce juice. In terms of nutrient content, it has comparable amounts of calories, carbs, vitamins and minerals as longan. However, it’s a bigger fruit, which is why longan has been nicknamed “lychee’s little brother,” as explained by Purdue University.

While both of these provide less nutrients and antioxidants than fruits such as berries, oranges, kiwi or mango, they do provide some polyphenols and vitamin C. Lychee, more so than longan, also offers small amounts of minerals including magnesium, potassium and phosphorus.

Both of these fruits are also related to the fruit called rambutan, which has spiky red skin and is a good source of fiber, manganese and vitamin C.

Nutrition Facts

According to the USDA, one fresh/raw longan fruit has about:

  • 8 calories
  • 0.5 grams carbs
  • less than 1 gram of protein or fat
  • 3 mg vitamin C (5 percent DV)

When dried, it’s easier to eat more longan in one sitting. A 0ne-ounce serving has about 80 calories and 20 grams of carbs.

The nutrient most present in langon is vitamin C, which appears to be more abundant in fresh longan compared to when it’s dried/canned. In smaller amounts, minerals such as potassium, magnesium and B vitamins are also present. Finally, longan is a great source of antioxidants, as detailed more below.

Health Benefits

1. Provides Antioxidants and Anti-Inflammatory Compounds

Longan contains antioxidants including polyphenols, which are known to promote health in many ways by fighting free radicals, inflammation, infection and oxidative stress. One study published in the journal Molecules identified four polyphenols and flavonoids in the highest quantities in longan (including in the seeds and skin): gallic acid, ethyl gallate, corilagin and ellagic acid.

Other studies have found that the fruit contains bioactive compounds such as anthocyanins, corilagin, methylgallic acid, flavone glycosides, quercetin and kaempferol. These are many of the same compounds found in healthy foods like berries, cherries and red wine.

Many studies have found that eating a diet high in polyphenols from foods such as fruits and vegetables can help to protect against development of various diseases, such as heart disease, certain types of cancer, diabetes and liver disease. For example, flavonoids and alkaloids in longan are believed to have the potential to be developed as anti-hyperglycemic agents, helping to defend against insulin resistence.

Other research shows longan has anti-inflammatory properties and may increase activities of antioxidant enzymes, including catalase, superoxide dismutase, and glutathione peroxidase. Antioxidants in longan may also help to support the immune system and have other anti-aging effects, such as preventing osteoporosis.

2. Good Source of Vitamin C

Vitamin C in longan is beneficial for the immune system, skin and eye health. Although research on longan in particular for promoting skin health and vision is limited, studies show that fruits high in vitamin C and other antioxidants can be helpful for slowing down the signs of aging, treating wounds and possibly protecting against illnesses.

3. May Have Antiviral, Antifungal and Antibacterial Effects

Studies have demonstrated that phytochemicals and polysaccharides found in longan may help boost gut health and functions of the immune system. This means the fruit may offer protection against inflammatory responses, common colds, the flu, various skin conditions, and possibly even some forms of cancer.

Uses

Where does longan fruit grow? According to the University of Florida, the longan tree is adapted to tropical climates and can be found throughout Asia — most predominantly in India, Sri Lanka, upper Myanmar, north Thailand, Cambodia, north Vietnam and New Guinea — and also in Australia, Hawaii, California, and South Florida in the United States.

Populations living in China, Vietnam and other countries in Asia have both eaten longan and used it for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, longan is believed to help support functioning of the heart, kidney, liver and spleen. Records indicate that Li Shizhen, a famous traditional Chinese medicine expert of the Ming Dynasty, considered longan fruit to be a natural tonic and called it “the king of fruits.”

Although research is somewhat limited in regards to longan’s therapeutic uses, some of the ways it has been utilized in folk medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine include:

  • Reducing pain and swelling
  • Decreasing stomach aches/pains
  • Treating snake bites (historically, the seed of the longan fruit were pressed against the skin to relieve pain and inflammation following a bite)
  • Increasing energy and reducing fatigue
  • Promoting relaxation and calmness, which can help improve sleep quality
  • Helping to manage mood related issues such as depression
  • Defending against negative effects of stress
  • Supporting cognitive function and memory

Because the fruit provides vitamin C and antioxidants, it can help to ward off infections and inflammation. Longan also supplies small amounts of B vitamins and may increase absorption of minerals like iron, supporting higher energy levels.

Aside from eating the white flesh of longan fruit, the seeds and rind of the fruit are used in other ways, such as to make cleansing products like shampoo. The longan tree is also grown for ornamental purposes even when it doesn’t produce fruit in colder months of the year, similar to palm trees. Additionally, the tree can be used to make lumber used in construction.

How to Eat

Most people only eat the flesh of longan fruit, discarding the seeds and rind. However, the skin and seeds have been shown to have a high antioxidant content. In addition to eating longan pulp, you can also consume this fruit in the form of juice, longan jelly, longan wine and canned longan in syrup.

When longan is harvested, it usually has a tough but thin shell that can be cracked and peeled. Peel the berries slightly and then try squeezing the pulp out as if you were cracking a small nut or seed.

Look for longan at Asian or global food markets, or online. The fruits usually come packaged in small flat boxes to keep them protected.

Some popular uses for longan in recipes include making:

  • sorbets
  • fresh fruit salads
  • jellies and jams
  • puddings made with coconut milk
  • rice dishes, such as Thai fried rice
  • juices
  • fruit smoothies
  • cocktails
  • herbal teas
  • Asian soups
  • sweet-and-sour foods, such as marinades for meats

When cooking with longan, it’s best to either use the fruit raw, eat it after it’s dried, or heat it only briefly to retain its nutrients. Some chefs recommend adding it to recipes at the last minute to preserve its taste and smell.

Keep langon refrigerated in an airtight container to keep it fresh for about one week, or freeze the berries for up to one or two months.

Recipes

Here are some simple recipes you can try using fresh or dried langon:

Risks and Side Effects

Experiencing longan fruit side effects is rare, but still possible. Some people may react negatively to dried longan if it’s been preserved with sulfur dioxide.

While it may be hard to find fresh longan in many parts of the world, it’s best to eat the fruit fresh rather than canned or dried if possible, since this form will contain the most nutrients and least amount of additives.

Final Thoughts

  • Dimocarpus longan (or simply longan) is a tropical fruit that’s native to Asia.
  • Longan benefits include providing polyphenol antioxidants, vitamin C and small amounts of other nutrients like B vitamin.
  • Longan vs lychee, what’s the difference? These two fruits are members of the same plant family and have many similarities. They have comparable nutrient contents and are used the same way in recipes.
  • Depending on where you live, look for fresh, canned or dried longan fruit. Use longan “berries” in desserts, fruit salad, smoothies, tea or sweet-and-sour recipes.
Josh Axe

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