Lychee (Litchi chinensis) is a delicious tropical fruit native to China, but it is now grown in other parts of the world. Lychee or known as "alligator strawberry" or litchi, have red and has bumpy husk on the outside and white and tender sweet flesh on the inside. It is a juicy, crisp, sweet fruit that is tender and has a pleasant floral and sweet fragrance.
Lychee fruit is best to enjoy fresh and raw. It is excellent on its own, but lychee is used in dessert and beverages in Asian cuisines. If you have never eaten fresh lychee before, you may wonder how to eat lychee and what you can do with lychees. In this guide, I will teach you everything you know about lychees.
How to Select Lychee Fruit
The peak season to eat lychee fruit is from late spring through early fall, and you have to enjoy the fresh fruit fairly quickly before it starts to ferment. In the U.S., lychee fruit season begins in May and through the Summer, as there are lychee farms available in California, Florida, and Texas. You can find fresh lychee fruit at any Asian grocery stores and specialty stores.
Whether you are picking fresh lychees directly from a tree or buying it from a market, choose the ones that are larger than one inch in diameter with bright and vibrant colored skin. Most lychees are red, but some varieties are yellowish or orange with some rose color hue. If the fruit is entirely brown, it is spoiled or rotted.
When picking the perfectly ripe lychees, give it a little squeeze with your thumb. It should be a little soft and have a lush and floral smell. If it's too soft or it is collapsing or leaking when you squeeze it, it is overripe, and it will have a fermented taste. If the fruit is cracked or has a fermented smell, it is over spoiled, and it is inedible. Fermented lychee fruit has its own different and robust taste, but you can eat it. Spoiled or rotted lychee fruit has an unpleasant taste, and it is inedible.
How To Peel Lychee
Peeling perfectly ripe lychees is super easy but watch out for squirting juice when first being pierced. You are being warned. Once you peel the fruit open, enjoy the sweet, crisp, and juicy lychee. Unlike canned lychee, fresh lychees offer a distinct sweet scent.
- To peel your lychee, use your thumbnail and pierce through the husk area. Because lychee fruits are super juicy, watch out for squirting juice.
- Peel back the skin like you would with an orange. And if you want to eat lychee fruit like a pro, peel halfway and pop the white flesh part out with a light squeeze or suck it out of the shell (if you are planning on eating it raw).
- Once you have to peel the skin off, you should have white flesh. It should be completely white. If there is any discoloration or spotty patches on your lychee flesh, it is a sign the lychee is fermenting and should not be eaten.
- Once you got the white flesh exposed, either pop it in your mouth and spit out the pit like you would with an orange. Or you can open up in half like avocado and remove the seed. You will notice some varieties have bigger seeds than others.
- To store extra uneaten lychee, wrap them in a dry paper towel, and then place it in a container with a lid or a storage bag. Then place it in the refrigerator and can last up to a week. If you aren't able to eat them all within time, see below and learn how to preserve lychee.
Note that the pit is not edible, and it is slightly poisonous. If you do open your lychee like an avocado, you will notice a slight brown membrane attached to the white flesh. This part is edible and does not need to be removed.
How To Eat Lychee
The best way to enjoy fresh lychee is to eat it raw. But there are many many ways you can enjoy lychee:
Add To Beverage
In Asian cuisine, lychee fruit is often used as a sweetener while adding a crisp flavor like watermelon to any beverage. You can blend it into your smoothie, add it to your tea, juice it, or add it to your cocktails.
Lychee is a great addition to your smoothie. Not only does it provide natural sweetness to your smoothie, but it adds a pleasant floral scent and a crisp flavor.
To juice your fresh lychee fruits, make sure to remove the shell and remove the seed. Because lychees are about 85% water, they are a great fruit to juice.
Because lychees are sweet in nature, adding them to your tea is a great way to sweeten your tea naturally while adding a floral note.
You may have already seen lychee cocktails on your local cocktail menu, and there is a reason for that. Lychee is an excellent addition to your classic cocktails or mocktails as it adds sweetness and a touch of tropical vibe. Some of the delicious lychee cocktails include lychee martini or lychee margarita. You can also turn lychee into a simple syrup and add it to your cocktail.
Lychee flesh mixes especially well with sake, tequila, and vodka.
Add Into Dessert
Because lychee fruit is sweet in nature, it is often used as a sweetener in Asian desserts like ice cream, pudding, or cake. You can cook it down to a syrup and add it into desserts like ice cream or shaved ice. Chop up some lychee flesh and add it as topping to your ice cream or shaved ice. You can also turn lychee into naturally sweetened ice cream or sorbet. It is super delicious.
Incorporate It Into Your Salad
Lychee is a great summer fruit to add to your salads or fruit salads. Simply peel the shell and chop up the white flesh and combine it with your favorite greens or other fruit.
Add to your Main dish
Lychee is a tropical fruit that pairs well with citrus, ginger, gooseberry, matcha, white chocolate, rosewater, vanilla, and other tropical fruit.
How To Preserve Lychees
Fresh lychee is delicious, but it has a pretty short shelf life. The good news is that there are few ways you can preserve this beautiful and delicious fruit.
Preserve your lychee fruit in syrup. Simply peel all your lychees and remove the seeds. In a cooking pan, combine 2 cups of water with one cup of sugar, bring it to a boil and then let it simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Then stir in your white flesh lychee and cook for about a minute or two until it is tender but not soggy. Let it cool and then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
You can preserve lychee by putting it in your dehydrator and turn it into dried fruits. Because lychee contains high water content, it will take about 24 hours to dehydrate. Avoid using high temperature to dehydrate because it can affect the lychee fruit flavor. Once the fruits are dried, you can store them at room temperature in an airtight container and store up to a year.
If you are unable to eat lychee fruit in time before it goes bad, you can freeze whole and unpeeled lychee by placing them in a freezer bag and can be frozen for up to six months. When you are ready to enjoy them, let them thaw first. Partially thawed lychee has a similar texture to sorbet.