A peeled lychee. Photo courtesy Baldor Food.
Lychee is a a tropical evergreen fruit tree native to southern China. The evergreen grows wild in southern China, northern Vietnam and Cambodia, although there is evidence that it has been cultivated since around 2000 B.C.E.
Today it grows throughout southeast Asia, notably in southern Japan, India, Pakistan, north Thailand and Vietnam. More recently, the tasty fruit has been planted in California, Florida and Hawaii, ensuring U.S. fans a more reliable supply. Depending on location, the harvest runs from May through September.
We’ve been coming across it in farmers markets: the skin of different varieties ranges from rosy red to pale dusty rose to golden tan and pale olive green. The paper-thin skin is peeled away to revel the milky white fruit inside. Here’s everything you’d ever want to know about lychee from Purdue School of Agriculture, including how to dry them in the skin.
The fruit is also transliterated as litchi. Perhaps the more useful information, though, is how to pronounce lychee.
In south China, where the fruit originated, Cantonese is the dominant language and in Cantonese the fruit is pronounced LYE-chee. The transliteration from Cantonese is lai chi.
In Mandarin, the language of Beijing, however, it is pronounced LEE-chee.
Like stone fruits (apricots, peaches, plums and nectarines), the lychee is a drupe, a fruit that has an outer fleshy part that surrounds a large, hard center seed. It has been called a “lychee nut” because the seed/pit looks like a glossy brown nut (it is definitely not a nut). The pit is inedible and slightly poisonous.
The typical lychee is about one inch in diameter. The outer covering is a pink-red, roughly-textured rind that is inedible but easily peeled with one’s fingers. The flesh inside is white, translucent and sweet, rich in vitamin C, with a texture somewhat similar to that of a grape. Children liken lychees to “eyeballs,” and you can see why in this photo.
The fresh fruit has a floral aroma; one account says that the perfume is lost in the process of canning. However, canning adds sugar for a higher level of sweetness, and the organoleptic difference between fresh and canned lychee is not as drastic as, say, with peaches. The canned fruit has more integrity, like canned pineapple.
BUYING & STORING LYCHEES
Lychees are extremely perishable. Store in a perforated plastic bag in the fridge for up to a week.
Or, freeze them whole, with the skin on. When they are defrosted, they’ll be fine. You can even eat them frozen: instant lychee sorbet. (You may have to run the frozen lychees under warm water for a few seconds to soften the skin.)
Baked ham, instead of pineapple rings
Canapés, stuffed with goat cheese or cream cheese and pecans
Chinese Chicken Salad
Cocktails (muddled or puréed with vodka or gin, and as a garnish)
In China, lychees are enjoyed out-of-hand. In the West, peeled and pitted, they are used in:
So delicious; we wish there were less pit and more flesh. Photo courtesy Melissas.com.
Eyeballs: Create lychee “eyeballs” for sweet cocktails and mocktails by stuffing the pit hole with blueberries, dried cranberries or pieces of grape. (For a savory cocktail, make a radish eyeball instead.)
Fruit Salad (delicious combined with banana, melon, mango, papaya, etc.)
Parfaits & Sundaes
Lychee Panna Cotta Recipe
Seared Tuna With Lychee Coulis Recipe
Lychee Agua Fresca Recipe
For an exotic presentation, serve unpeeled lychees in dessert bowls over crushed ice (provide a bowl for the pits).
There are dozens of recipes at LycheesOnline.com.
LOVE THE FLAVOR OF LYCHEE?
We find that St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur tastes like lychee (or perhaps it’s that elderflowers taste like lychee). We find it far superior to Soho lychee liqueur.
Head out to find fresh lychees. Enjoy them today, and freeze some for later.