Our newest group of super food: soapberries.
Small but powerful, this crop of tropical and sub-tropical fruit has roots in Asia.
From lychees to rambutan and longans, these tree-growing soapberry fruits are just as rich in nutrition as they are in history.
"The Chinese called it super food thousands of years ago. Only now we discover it, and people only now realize it," says Chef B.T. Nguyen.
She uses the lychee in salads and desserts, but you'll also find lychee puree in drinks like martinis made with organic sake.
"Lychee has made its own way into bars restaurants, cocktails and even wine, so it's come a long way," Chef BT says.
She has even heard wines described as carrying a lychee-like flavor.
Fruits like the lychee are naturally sweet, low in calories and contain as much vitamin C as a small orange. They also contain a yeast that can act as a probiotic; pectin, a soluble form of fiber; and a special chemical called Oligonol that is catching the eye of researchers across the world.
Oligonol extracts are being studied as a possible natural anti-influenza treatment. It's also lowered cholesterol in mice and helped reduce inflammation in the gut.
Lychee have also been shown to help thin blood, which could enhance circulation, and they contain potassium, known to help lower blood pressure. There has even been a study showing the benefit of lychee extracts in exercise recovery.
The longan hasn't undergone the same types of scientific studies as the Lychee. It is similar, also in the soapberry family.
Chef B.T. says, given its flavor, the smaller longan could emerge as the next culinary star.
"Longan is the beginning, so we try to incorporate into salad dressings, fruit salad, so we're kind of playing with that right now," she says.
Fresh lychee is only available a few months each year, so alternative fruits like the longan help fill the gaps, along with the rambutan. Also in the soapberry family, beneath the rambutan's prickly-looking hairy exterior, you'll find a fruit similar to the lychee.
There's another allure for these exotic fruits: If it's not the taste that hooks you on the lychee, perhaps it's this bit of Asian folklore.
"If you eat a lychee, it makes you fall in love. When you smell the lychee, it's very romantic, it's very exotic," says B.T. who grew up in Viet Nam.
Giving us one more reason to fall in love, with these super foods.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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