In terms of tasty tropical fruit, longan is an exotic option that has a number of great health benefits like it improves skin health, boosts the immune system, reduces stress and increase circulation. However, before you try any new food, it is best to understand where it comes from, what it contains, and what specific benefits it can deliver.
What is Longan?
Longan is the fruit of the longan tree, which is scientifically known as Dimocarpus longan. It is classified within the larger group of soapberries, which is composed of other exotic fruits, such as lychee, ackee, salt lime, and guarana, among others. Native to Southern Asia, this fruit has been cultivated and harvested for generations, and its first recorded use is actually more than 2,000 years ago. It has only recently been introduced to the rest of the world and is now experiencing another resurgence in popularity as a health food.
The longan is a unique fruit and looks like a berry or a grape, with a small, smooth seed in the center. As the fruit ripens, the outer layer of skin forms into a hardened shell, so that when they are harvested, the fruit can easily be freed from the shell. The flesh of the fruit is pale white and it is mildly juicy and sweet. You will often find longan used in desserts and as a flavoring agent in certain beverages or dishes. The fruit can also be dried to make for a nice snack. Before eating the inner part of the fruit, the seed should be removed, but the essential oils of these seeds are often used for medicinal purposes. This fruit is not only an important culinary element but also a popular tool in traditional medicine in Asia, thanks to its unique nutrient profile.
Longan Nutrition Facts
Longan is extremely low in calories, with less than 20 calories present in an ounce of these small fruits. There are also very few carbohydrates found in these fruits, which is good for those on a ketogenic diet. However, longan is an excellent source of potassium and vitamin C, as well as copper, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese, in addition to numerous B vitamins, including folic acid. Longan fruit also boasts certain antioxidants that can increase the overall wellness of the body.
Health Benefits of Longan
Some of the most notable health benefits of longan are its ability to improve skin health, support the immune system, reduce stress, increase circulation and lower blood pressure, among others.
When it comes to antioxidants, longan only has a moderate amount of it, but it can have measurable effects on the appearance and texture of the skin. It can help eliminate wrinkles and age spots, as well as blemishes and the appearance of scars. These antioxidants will help to clear out the oxidative stress in your system.
Promotes Weight Loss
Due to the extremely low number of calories found in longan, it is extremely effective in losing weight. There isn’t much fiber in these fruits, but the nutrient density can help to suppress the appetite, despite being able to eat as many of these fruits as you want without any real fear of compromising on your caloric intake.
There are trace amounts of iron in longan, which can help to stimulate the production of red blood cells and boost circulation. With proper blood flow, you will have resources delivered to key parts of the body, as well as oxygen, which can increase energy and prevent the symptoms of anemia.
Controls Blood Pressure
There are a few other minerals present in longan, including potassium, which has been directly linked to lowering blood pressure. Potassium is a vasodilator, which means that it can release the tension in your blood vessels and arteries, which can ultimately protect the cardiovascular system and reduce your risk of atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes.
Boosts Nervous System Health
Research has found that longan can help to balance the electrolytes in the body, and this can, in turn, help to improve the function of the nervous system. The electrical signals required for every action in the body must pass through the electrolytes, so this fruit can help overall function and even muscle movement.
There is a notable amount of vitamin C in these small fruits; in fact, that is the most abundant vitamin present in longan. Providing nearly 40% of your daily requirement of ascorbic acid in 1 ounce of these fresh fruits, your immune system can get a major boost, in addition to vitamin C’s antioxidant activities.
Having a high level of vitamin C also means that this fruit can help in the production of collagen, which is essential for every tissue, cell or muscle in the body. Proper levels of collagen mean that repair can happen effectively and efficiently.
In Chinese traditional medicine, it was believed that longan could help to balance the Qi, which can improve energy levels, prevent chronic disease and boost the metabolism. While research on this is limited, millions of anecdotal reports from China are confident in the energy-boosting potential of this fruit.
Despite having a minimal amount of antioxidants, they can still help to eliminate free radicals and neutralize their impact within the body. This can help prevent the mutation of healthy cells, which can reduce your risk of cancer, arthritis, autoimmune diseases and various heart conditions.
Aids in Digestion
Longan is a relatively good source of fiber, which can help to bulk up the stool and promote peristaltic motion. It helps to pass bowel movements and prevent symptoms of constipation, indigestion, diarrhea, bloating, cramping and general stomach upset, while also improving nutrient uptake efficiency.
Numerous research studies have linked the consumption of longan with improved cognitive abilities, particularly those relating to the formation and retention of memory. Some of this is believed to be due to the presence of antioxidants, although results have been mixed in past studies.
Difference: Longan, Lychee & Rambutan
Many people mistake these tropical fruits, and with good reason. They all belong to the same family of fruits, Sapindaceae, and look quite similar to one another when they are removed from their outer skins and coverings (white flesh, central seed etc.). Lychee is certainly the most well known of these three around the globe, but longan and rambutan are quite popular throughout Asia as well. When you eat the fruit or mix them in cocktails, it can often be difficult to distinguish between their tastes.
However, the rambutan fruit is bright orange with dozens of small spikes coming off the golf ball-shaped body of the fruit. Longan, as mentioned, is yellowish and slightly larger than a grape. Lychee has a red outer skin that might be mistaken for rambutan but they are notably smaller. In terms of taste, longan tends to be a bit more tart, while lychee has more actual juice and makes for a more refreshing bite.
Despite the many potential benefits of longan, there are some side effects, such as an increased risk of gastrointestinal distress and complications in pregnancy.
Pregnancy: If you are pregnant, speak with your doctor before adding this exotic fruit to your diet, as it can have stimulatory effects on the body, potentially even menstruation, which could complicate your pregnancy.
Stomach Upset: If you have a sensitive stomach or are experiencing any sort of stomach upset, avoid this fruit, as it can exacerbate these effects, resulting in anything from diarrhea and vomiting to cramping and constipation.