Lychee Seeds Aren't Edible, but Here's Why You Should Eat the Fruit

The spiky peel and seeds of the lychee fruit are inedible, but the soft flesh inside is sweet and floral tasting.
Image Credit: 5second/iStock/GettyImages

Lychee is a sweet, tasty red fruit that has been cultivated in China and Vietnam as far back as 2,000 years ago, according to a September 2017 review in ​Nutrients​.

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Fresh lychee can be found canned or fresh in some Asian markets and is often enjoyed in bubble tea and various desserts.

Lychee is roughly 1 inch long and 1 inch wide. To get at the fruit, you peel off a leather-like and spiky, inedible skin. The fruit surrounds a rather large seed in the middle. A few days after the fruit ripens, it turns dark and dehydrates, resembling a raisin.

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Are Lychee Seeds Edible?

Lychee seeds have potent toxic compounds known as hypoglycin A, and its analog methylene cyclopropyl-glycine (MCPG), per the September 2017 ​Nutrients​ review. Eating lychee seeds could cause hypoglycemic encephalopathy, otherwise known as a coma induced by extremely low blood sugar.

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Folk medicine uses the seeds of lychee fruit for pain relief, and people in Northern India have long used powdered lychee seeds for digestive disorders. It's traditionally drunk as tea made from powdered seeds.

Warning

Lychee seeds are poisonous, and unripe lychee can also be toxic. Avoid eating the pit or the fruit if it's not ripened.

Lychee Fruit Nutrition Facts

A serving of 10 lychee fruits (about 100 grams) contains:

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  • Calories​: 66
  • ​​Total fat​​: 0.5 g
    • ​​Saturated fat​​: 0 g
    • ​Trans fat​​: 0 g
  • ​​Cholesterol​​: 0 mg
  • ​​Sodium​​: 1 mg
  • ​Total carbs​: 16.5 g
    • ​Dietary fiber:​ 1.3 g
    • ​​Sugar​: 15.2 g
  • ​​Protein​: 0.8 g

Lychee Fruit Macros

  • ​Total fat​: A serving of 10 lychee fruit has 0.5 grams of total fat, which includes 0.13 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 0.12 grams of monounsaturated fat, 0.01 grams of saturated fat and 0 grams of trans fat.
  • ​​Carbohydrates​: A serving of 10 lychee fruit has 16.5 grams of carbs, which includes 1.3 grams of fiber and 15.2 grams of naturally occurring sugars.
  • ​​Protein​: A serving of 10 lychee fruit has 0.8 grams of protein.

Vitamins, Minerals and Other Micronutrients

  • Vitamin C​: 75.1 mg, 79% of the daily value (DV)
  • Copper​: 0.1 mg, 16% DV
  • Vitamin B6​: 0.1 mg, 6% DV
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)​: 0.1 mg, 5% DV
  • Potassium​: 171 mg, 4% DV

The Health Benefits of Lychee Fruit

Lychee fruit has historically been used to treat ailments such as cough, stomach ulcers, diabetes and hernia-like conditions across many cultures, although there is very limited scientific evidence proving these health claims, per a November 2015 article in the ​Journal of Ethnopharmacology.

While the seeds of lychee fruit are toxic, the rest of the fruit is highly beneficial. Lychee is low in calories and high in fiber, vitamin C as well as several vitamin B vitamins and provides important minerals such as potassium.

Here are three proven health benefits of lychee fruit.

1. It's High in Antioxidants

Antioxidants are found in all fruits and vegetables, but lychee fruit is particularly high in these free-radical fighting molecules. A diet high in antioxidants helps to protect your cells from free radical damage that's linked to heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other diseases, per the Mayo Clinic.

Lychee fruit has six different potent antioxidants, per a February 2013 study in ​Food Chemistry:

  • Gallic acid​: A phenolic compound found in many fruits and medicinal plants that is potentially beneficial for stomach, heart and neurological disorders, per a March 2019 review in the Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences.
  • Chlorogenic acid​: A polyphenol most commonly found in coffee with properties that are linked to lower rates of diabetes, cancer and inflammation, according to an October 2017 review in the ​European Journal of Nutrition​.
  • Catechin​: A highly active polyphenol often associated with tea. This antioxidant is often associated with its benefits of treating and preventing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), per a March 2017 article in ​Molecules​.
  • Caffeic acid​: An antioxidant found in a large variety of plants. This polyphenol is associated with lower rates of cancer, diabetes, neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease and inflammation, per an April 2020 article in ​Bioactive Compounds in Health and Disease​.
  • Epicatechin​: This plant compound is highly concentrated in plants such as apples, blackberries, cherries, and raspberries. Epicatechins are associated with gut health, reduced oxidation of LDL cholesterol and blood vessel dilation, according to UC Davis Nutrition.
  • Rutin​: Apples, asparagus, citrus fruits, green tea and figs are some of the foods high in rutin. This plant compound is known for its antioxidant and neuroprotective effects, per a November 2015 article in the International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology.

2. It's Linked to Lower Rates of Cancer

Many of the antioxidants found in lychee fruit, including caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid, have potential anti-cancer properties. But the effects of lychee fruit itself on cancer are just beginning to be studied.

The extract of lychee was found to stop colon cancer cell growth in laboratory studies, per an October 2018 study in Nutrients. More research is needed to determine if or how this can be useful for human colon cancer treatment. And lab studies have found that dried lychee fruit has greater tumor reducing potential than fresh fruit, per the September 2017 ​Nutrients​ review.

It's important to note that these studies were carried out using extracts and performed in a lab, so it's unclear how the actual fruit would affect human cancer cells.

3. It's an Excellent Source of Vitamin C

About 10 lychees have 79 percent of your DV for vitamin C. This vitamin is a water-soluble vitamin that's essential — meaning your body doesn't make it and you need to get it through food, such as lychee.

As well as being a water-soluble vitamin, vitamin C is a potent antioxidant, per the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It's also needed for wound healing, helps support the immune system and aids the body in absorbing iron from plants.

Maintaining adequate vitamin C levels can be helpful for the prevention and recovery from infections such as pneumonia and the COVID-19 virus, per a November 2021 review in the ​Journal of the Egyptian Public Health Association.

Lychee Fruit Health Risks

While lychee fruit is nutrient-rich and has a number of potential health benefits, there are a few reasons you may want to skip this sweet berry.

Low Blood Sugar

Unripe lychee fruit has the same toxic compounds found in the seeds. If you happen to eat several unripe fruits on an empty stomach, it could result in excessively low blood sugar, which could be fatal, according to a December 2020 article in ​PLOS One​.

The toxin, MCPG, causes a quick drop in blood sugar and interferes with the body's ability to naturally raise its blood sugar through a process called gluconeogenesis.

Drug Interactions

There are little known drug interactions with fresh lychee fruit when eaten in moderation. Lychee fruit extract may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with:

  • Anticoagulants
  • Aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

According to a June 2016 review in Pharmacognosy Review, the extract can also interact with:

  • Anti-cancer drugs
  • Anti-viral medication
  • Cholesterol-lowering medications
  • Pain relievers

Tips for Buying, Preparing and Eating Lychee

You may be able to find fresh lychee at a well-stocked Asian market or on travels abroad.

Pick lychee that is bright red in color and peel the skin off using your fingers, per the Australian Lychee Growers Association. You can either eat the flesh and spit out the seed, or use a knife to peel the flesh away from the seed.

Lychee fruit can be eaten plain or added to salads, desserts or sprinkled on yogurt.

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