- Mar 23, 2018 -
A close relative to the rambutan and longan, the lychee is the ultimate summer fruit you never knew you needed. Lychees are native to Southern China, but are grown in tropical climates worldwide and are most popular in Southeast Asian countries. While it might be tough to find fresh lychees at your local supermarket, the canned version is available almost everywhere, especially in Asian markets.
About the size of a golf ball, these bumpy fruits grow on trees in bunches and are ripe when the skin is a vibrant, beautiful red. Once the skin is peeled away, the lychee fruit is translucent, fleshy and off-white, with a large brown seed in the center.
In the lychee, the balance of sweet and tart is perfected. Its light, floral taste — some say it’s a grape/rose, others insist pear/watermelon — pairs perfectly with coconut, lime, and other tropical tastes.
Lychee is often used in cocktails; lychee martinis and mojitos, for instance, have been popping up on trendy restaurant drink menus for years. Lychee desserts like ice cream and bubble tea are also extremely popular and refreshingly delicious. In Hawaii, simply stuffing them with cream cheese is a timeless summer treat.
I love lychees, too. They’re delicious. You can get fresh lychees grown in Florida, Hawaii, and China when they’re in season: June and July. If you can’t find them in your local markets, look in Chinatowns or exotic grocery stores. Fresh lychees are oval- or heart-shaped, about two inches in size with bumpy red skin (the redder the “shells,” the fresher the lychee). To get to the fruit inside, you peel off the skin or bite off a small piece around the stem and then squeeze – the fruit will pop out of the skin into your mouth (don’t chew or swallow the big seed). The actual lychee looks a bit like a grape, but it is white, or, sometimes, pinkish and translucent. It is wonderfully sweet with a distinctive tropical flavor.
If you buy lychees fresh, you should refrigerate them when you get them home. Unlike some tropical fruit such as avocados, mangos and bananas, lychees don’t ripen after being picked. You can also freeze lychees – just seal them (in their skin) in a freezer bag. The skin may discolor during freezing, but that won’t affect the fruit inside or its taste. Frozen lychees taste like a fine sorbet – and I’ve also had lychee sorbet (at Thai restaurants), which is delicious.
Lychees are low in calories – only 63 in 10 average-sized fresh ones, which also provide about 69 milligrams of vitamin C, more than you would get in a small orange or half a grapefruit.