You’ve heard of popular fruits like bananas, apples, and oranges. You’ve probably even heard of less popular fruits like kiwis and passionfruit. But have you heard of lychee?
Lychee, also spelled litchi or lichi, is native to Southeast Asia, and is actually of local importance there. It has been a staple fruit of the Cantonese since ancient times and is grown commercially in China and India.
Lychee was introduced into the Western world in 1775 when it made its way to Jamaica. Eventually, in 1916, the fruit was discovered in Florida where the tree obtained commercial importance. The tree has also found itself a home around the Mediterranean, in South Africa, and in Hawaii.
Now that we know the history of this pleasant fruit, we need to give it more credit! So, what does lychee taste like? It can be aromatic and musky or acidic and sweet depending on how the lychee is prepared.
I’m here to tell you more about this delicious fruit. Maybe I’ll help it get some more street cred!
What is Lychee?
The lychee tree is an evergreen tree of the soapberry family. The tree creates a compact crown of foliage that is bright green all throughout the year. The leaves are compound and composed of two, three, or four pairs of elliptic to lanceolate leaflets that are 2-3 inches long.
Lychee fruit is oval to round, strawberry red in color, and about one 1 inch in diameter. The delicate outer covering holds a translucent, white, fleshy aril and one large seed.
Whilst fresh lychee is the most popular form, it can also be candied or dried.
PSA: Do not, I repeat, do not eat unripe lychee. You’ll find a naturally-occurring amino acid called Hypoglycin A, which causes severe vomiting. Also, do not eat their seeds, as you will find a poisonous compound MCPG. MCPG will cause a sudden drop in blood sugar, vomiting, altered mental status with lethargy, unconsciousness, coma, and even death.
But yes, lychees are still edible, don’t worry. This is in rare occurrences if not cut or cooked properly, which is similar to many other raw foods.
What Does Lychee Taste Like?
Lychee is sweet with slightly floral and acidic notes. The fresh pulp is aromatic and musky while the dried pulp is acidic and very sweet.
When biting into the flesh of fresh lychee fruit, you’ll get a juicy flavor burst that resembles a strawberry of pear with some hints of citrus. The floral taste can also resemble a rose.
If you’re eating lychee dried instead of fresh, it may taste like a grape with a hint of rose. Other taste-testers have claimed it to taste more like a pear or watermelon.
The beauty of the sweet and tart taste of the fruit means that it pairs well with other tropical flavors. I’m picturing myself on a tropical island as we speak
What Tastes Similar to Lychee?
Aside from its given tastes of grape, melon, and rose resemblances, there are some other lesser-known fruits that taste similar to lychee and deserve some notice.
The longan fruit looks like a smaller, less textured version of a lychee. This gummy-like fruit tastes almost exactly like the lychee, just maybe a little less sweet. Canned longans will get you that extra sweetness you might be missing.
A rambutan fruit looks like if a red hedgehog and lychee crossed…which sounds weirdly cute. They’re spiny, spiky little things that have a similar juicy flesh that tastes like lychee.
The mangosteen is a tropical fruit lover’s dream. This purple-skinned fruit is just as soft and fluffy as lychee. It also tastes like a lychee, but with the added blend of peach, banana, vanilla, and strawberry.
Lychee Health Benefits
You can guess that lychees are sweet from their natural sugars, and the majority of carbs in lychees come from those sugars.
There are approximately 66 calories in one 3.5-ounce serving of Lychees. In that same serving, you’ll get 0.8 grams of protein and 1.3 grams of fiber (which is high). You’ll also get 16.5 grams of carbs and 15.2 grams of sugar. However, there are only 0.4 grams of fat.
Lychee has also been used for medicinal purposes in past history because of its richness in dietary fiber.
As for the vitamins and minerals, Vitamin C is the most abundant vitamin in lychees. One lychee provides around 9% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI). This little fruit’s Vitamin C also has protection against colds and other infections as well as fighting inflammation and helping the body develop resistance.
Lychees are also a good source of copper and potassium, which may improve heart health.
Similar to fruits in general, lychees are a good source of various antioxidant plant compounds. However, they’ve been reported to contain higher levels of antioxidant polyphenols than several other common fruits.
Antioxidants include epicatechin, a flavonoid that may improve heart health and reduce your risk of cancer and diabetes, and rutin, a flavonoid that may help protect against chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
People have also eaten lychee for couch, fever, pain, to invigorate the body, and to promote urination.
Uses for Lychee
Although lychee can be eaten alone once peeled, you may want to get creative with the sweet fruit.
Dried lychees can also be used for an easy picking snack, or you can chop them up and throw them into fruit salads or regular salads. Think of using them like dried cranberries in a salad.
It’s also common in Chinese culture to use dried lychee as an alternative for sugar to sweeten their tea. The tea also helps as an act of treating smallpox and diarrhea. Sore throats are treated with a decoration of bark, root, and lychee blossoms.
In a less common, but very creative way, lychees can be spiced, pickled, or turned into sauces, preserves, and even wine.
Since lychees are rich in Vitamins C and B as well as other nutrients, they make for a great smoothie addition.
Lastly, and one of my personal favorites, lychee can be found as a garnish in an alcoholic drink such as a martini. The fruit itself helps to cut out some of the harsh/strong liquors, but then it makes for a great after-drink snack as it soaked up some of the alcohol. It’s a little burst of sweetness mixed with a pop of liquor all in one.