When I first came across a lychee fruit I had no idea what it was or how it tasted. And the fact that it looked like a sunburnt strawberry got me thinking: what is a lychee, and how do I eat it? As it turns out, lots of people don’t know what lychees are. So, in this article, I’m going to tell you all about lychees, including how to eat lychees, and also introduce you to some delicious lychee-based recipes for you to try at home.
Table of Contents
What Is A Lychee?
Lychees are a tropical fruit native to Southern China, and a close relative of other, lesser-known Chinese fruits, the rambutan and longan, which are prevalent throughout Southeast Asia. Lychees’ botanical name is Litchi chinesnsis and they are sometimes known as leechee or litchi.
The lychee fruit grows on lychee trees which can grow as tall as 40 feet (12 m) depending on the variety and growing conditions. For home gardeners interested in growing their own lychee tree, there are varieties that grow to a more manageable size of 6.5-16.5 feet (2-5 m) tall.
You’d be forgiven for mistaking a lychee for a discolored and slightly disfigured strawberry or a large raspberry, but the resemblance stops there.
Lychees are usually the size of a golf ball or about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter, shaped either round or oval and when you peel them, they’re milky white inside with a jelly-like constancy. And probably look nothing like you were expecting!
Because of their reddish-pink bumpy skin, lychees are sometimes referred to as ‘alligator strawberries,’ which is an undeniably cool name for a fruit!
What Does a Lychee Taste Like?
Lychees are sweet with a grape-like texture and taste with a hint of citrus and rose water. This tropical fruit really is delicious!
If you’re trying a lychee for the first time, you might find the slippery jelly-like texture unusual. Also, there’s a pretty sizable seed in the middle of the fruit, so make sure you eat around it.
In China, the lychee is a symbol of romance, and perhaps that’s because once you eat one, you’ll be in love with the taste of lychees!
How To Tell A Lychee Is Ripe
The best way to tell if a lychee is ripe is by inspecting its outer skin. Perfectly ripe lychees will have a bright red or pink color with a slightly bumpy texture. The skin should also feel firm to the touch, but not too hard or soft.
In addition to the color and texture, you can also gently squeeze the lychee to check for ripeness. A ripe lychee will give slightly when pressed, indicating that the fruit is juicy and ready to eat.
Another sign of ripeness is the fragrance of the fruit. Ripe lychees will have a sweet, floral scent that is strong and alluring.
If the lychee does not have a noticeable aroma, it may not be fully ripe. Because lychees don’t ripen after picking, it’s a good idea to know what to look for when selecting ripe lychees.
How to Eat Lychees
The most common way to eat a lychee is fresh by first peeling away the rough-textured outside husk. You can do this by piercing it with your thumbnail and carefully peeling away the inedible lychee skin so that you don’t damage any of the soft white flesh inside.
You’ll find that the husk should slide off almost effortlessly and you will be left with a white ball of fruit. You can then eat fresh lychees as you like and spit out the seed once you get to the center.
However, if you’re preparing a lychee to use in a recipe like a salad, you should first peel it and then score it in half to reveal the stone. You should then approach it like you would an avocado, and prise out the stone before slicing the fruit to your liking.
Because lychees are very soft, you might tear the fruit if you press down too hard with your knife, so bear this in mind when you’re removing the husk.
Recipe Ideas for Lychees
If you’ve recently discovered lychees and you can’t get enough of them, the great news is that they are versatile and can be enjoyed as part of various seasonal dishes. Let’s take a look at a number of ways you can enjoy lychees at home:
Lychee In Salads
Lychees make an excellent addition to summer salads, as they are not too sweet to be out of place, but just sweet enough to add a unique flavor and texture to your salad. Check out these delicious lychee salad recipes to get the taste buds tingling:
Lychee In Curries
Lychees add a beautiful sweetness to many Asian curry recipes and are often used in Southeast Asian cuisine in this way. You can add lychees to the following recipes:
Like many fruits, lychees are an excellent ingredient to include in a variety of desserts. You can really include lychees in so many after-dinner recipes or even a simple fruit salad, but some ideas to get you started include:
Lychees are delicious in drinks. Here are a few lychee drink recipes to try:
As you can see from the various recipes, lychees are super versatile and can be used in so many ways at home. Because it’s not the most common of fruits, lychees can make for an impressive addition to any dinner party.
Lychee Season and Where to Buy Them
Lychee season occurs in the summer months, from May to September, depending on the region. During the season, you can find lychees available at various local markets, specialty grocery stores, and Asian supermarkets.
You may also find them at farmer’s markets or directly from orchards, especially if you live in a region where lychee trees are cultivated.
When choosing lychees, look for fruits that are firm, plump, and have a bright red or pink skin. Avoid any that appear shriveled or have brown spots, as this may indicate that they are past their prime.
If you’re unable to find lychees locally, there are many online retailers that offer them for delivery or you can enjoy canned lychees from your local supermarket at any time. For fresh lychees, keep an eye out for them during the summer season and explore different places to find these delicious tropical treats.
How to Store Lychees
Lychee fruits actually ferment as they age. So you need to store them appropriately if you don’t plan on enjoying them right away.
As is the case with most fruits, it’s difficult to know when exactly the lychees were picked. So it’s best to enjoy lychees straight away to benefit from their freshness.
Fresh lychees will have softer skin with a reddish-pink color. Whereas older lychees will start to discolor, becoming brown and the skin will turn brittle.
To keep lychees a little longer, it’s best to store them in the fridge. Do this by wrapping them in a paper towel and placing them inside a zip-lock bag, before storing them in the fridge. This helps to preserve their freshness for up to one week.
If you want to store lychees long-term, you can actually freeze them. For best results, place the lychees, with their skin on, in a zip-lock bag and place them in the freezer. To defrost them, simply take them out of the freezer and leave them on the kitchen bench for a couple of hours until they reach room temperature. It’s best not to refreeze them.
TIAP: Lychees can be enjoyed frozen. When you peel them and eat them straight out of the freezer, they taste like a delicious lychee sorbet. The perfect way to cool down on a super hot summer’s day!
What Are The Health Benefits of Eating Lychees?
Like all fruits, lychees are great in moderation. They contain natural antioxidants including Vitamin C and Vitamin B complex.
Eating lychees is known to aid in the production of red blood cells. And thanks to its disease-fighting flavonoids, they are known to inhibit heart disease.
More commonly, lychees are high in fiber which supports healthy digestion and suppresses your appetite. Leaving you feeling fuller for longer.
Being a tropical fruit, lychees may not always be so easy to get a hold of. But when they’re out of season, you can still enjoy the canned lychees to keep you going. Or, as suggested, you could buy them in bulk in season and freeze them until you need to use them, as their freshness can be easily preserved.
Overall, the delicious lychee is an excellent fruit to add to your kitchen, as it is versatile, healthy, and super tasty!
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