Sometimes called a berry and sometimes called a nut, longan is actually neither. Instead, it is a fruit related to the lychee. Longans grow in clusters on trees. The fruit is very round and about the size of a large grape. Beneath the tough, tan shell, you'll find the white flesh of the fruit surrounding a dark seed. This structure is the source of its nickname, dragon's eye. The flesh of longan fruit resembles that of a grape in taste and texture, but longan has a hint of musk in the flavor.
Native to India or China, longan is very popular in Asia, and an Asian market may be your best bet for finding the fresh fruit. Longan is also available canned and dried. Traditional Chinese medicine uses both the fruit and the seed for healing and for general health. Scientific research does not support all the health claims for longan, but the fruit has nutrients that are valuable in maintaining wellness.
Fresh longan fruit is high in vitamin C, as most fruits are — which is one reason why fruit is so vital in a healthy diet. One serving of longan provides almost a full day's requirement. A longan’s unique appearance and taste may tempt your appetite and lead you to eat more fruit. Nutritionists point out that eating a variety of fruits gives you a broad spectrum of nutrients.
Because it’s rich in vitamin C and other nutrients, longan can provide these health benefits:
When that cut on your finger finally heals, you can thank vitamin C. Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is vital for tissue health and promotes healing of cuts and wounds. It also helps the body create collagen, a tough substance that is part of muscles, cartilage, skin, bones, and almost every other part of the body. Vitamin C keeps your teeth and gums healthy too.
Some studies have suggested that because vitamin C is an antioxidant, and can contribute to heart health. It may reduce stiffening of the arteries, which is a feature of cardiovascular disease. Vitamin C supplements do not seem to have this effect. Getting vitamin C from plant sources, such as longan, appears to be a better path to heart health. More research could show exactly how vitamin C might protect the heart.
Blood Pressure Control
Longan contains a good amount of potassium, which helps control blood pressure. Many nutritionists consider potassium an under-consumed nutrient, with most Americans getting only about half the recommended amount.
Ancient humans consumed about 16 times more potassium than sodium, but Americans today take in twice as much sodium as potassium. Some scientists believe this imbalance is one reason so many people have high blood pressure. Because elevated blood pressure is a risk factor for stroke, those with adequate potassium in their diet have a lowered risk of stroke.
Longan contains small amounts of several vitamins and minerals and is a valuable source of:
- Vitamin C
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
Nutrients per Serving
The nutritional profile of longan is different for fresh, canned, and dried fruit. A serving of 20 pieces of fresh longans contains:
- Calories: 38
- Protein: 1 gram
- Fat: 0 grams
- Carbohydrates: 10 grams
- Fiber: 0 grams
- Sugar: 0 grams
Things to Watch Out For
Although no glycemic index is available for longan fruit, it is relatively high in carbs and low in fiber. That means it could spike blood sugar. Longan might not be the best fruit for people with diabetes, although it should be fine in moderation. One suggested rule is not to eat a serving of fruit that has more than 15 grams of carbohydrates. With only 10 grams of carbohydrates, a single serving of longan should be fine for people with diabetes. Those who want to avoid high-sugar foods for weight management or other reasons could follow the same rule.
How to Use Longan
Since longan is available fresh, dried, or canned, it is almost like three different ingredients. For best preservation of nutrients, choose fresh fruit and use it uncooked. Use canned and dried longan to add complex flavors to a variety of dishes. Dried longan may need soaking for some dishes. Canned longan is often packed in sweetened syrup. Rinsing will remove excess sugar.
Here are some ways to use longan:
- Add to a salad along with citrus and mint for a refreshing side dish.
- Place unshelled longan in the freezer. Remove and peel for a frosty treat.
- Mix with other diced fruit for a tasty fruit salad. Add nuts or coconut if you like.
- Blend the fruit of longan with coconut milk and a banana to make a delicious smoothie.
- Add canned longan to curries and other hearty dishes.
- Dice dried longan and cook it with oatmeal or use it in overnight oats.
- Make a traditional Asian tea using red dates and dried longan.
Turn longan into jam, jelly, or preserves.