Lychees are a tropical fruit, native to the Guangdong and Fujian provinces of China. They have a rough pink outer skin, edible white flesh, and a large stone at the centre. The flesh has the consistency of a grape or a ripe pear, and contains a high concentration of water, making it an excellent source of hydration, as well as several important vitamins and minerals. Sometimes known as ‘alligator strawberries’ because of their bumpy skin, Lychees may look intimidating, but they’re simple to peel and definitely worth the effort.
This unique-looking fruit has been grown in China for thousands of years, and is much-prized for its sweet, delicate flesh. It was considered a delicacy in the Chinese Imperial Court, where Emperors went to great trouble to have fresh lychees delivered from Guangdong to the capital. Visitors from overseas were also enchanted by this exotic new fruit, and the lychee was first introduced to the West in the seventeenth century. These days, lychees are enjoyed all around the world, and can be bought fresh from Asian supermarkets in May and June, or in cans all year round.
Despite its tough skin, the lychee is very easy to peel and eat. Simply squeeze the fruit gently to make the thick skin tear, or use your thumbnail if it needs a little encouragement. Once the skin is torn, it should be easy to peel away. If you’re eating the lychee fresh, you can eat around the stone and spit it out. Otherwise, make an incision with a sharp knife and remove the stone that way. Fresh lychees should be kept in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, and will last for up to two weeks.
Lychees are a versatile fruit, and work well in a variety of dishes. They are delicious fresh, either by themselves or in salads and fruit platters, and can be used to lend a touch of the exotic to your favourite dessert, from ice-creams and mousses to cakes and meringues. They also complement pork and duck particularly well, and can be added to sweet and sour dishes or served stuffed with cream cheese and nuts. They can even be used to flavour cocktails, or eaten dried as a raisin-like snack known as ‘Lychee nuts’
What does it taste like?
Lychee flesh has a delicate, grape-like texture, with a bold flavour profile, said to be the perfect balance of sweet and sour. It is aromatic and sweet, fruity and floral, and has been compared to grape, pear or watermelon with a hint of rose, cut through with a sharp, citrus-like undertone. This combination of flavours makes lychee the perfect partner for other tropical fruits, like lime and coconut.
Lychee fruit recipes
The bold flavour of lychee makes it a star ingredient in so many dishes, but it is particularly good as a dessert. Here are a few of our favourite lychee recipes.
For the flavours of China in a bite-sized party treat, try these exquisite White Chocolate Financiers with an Organic Zhejiang Green Tea and Lychee Mousse, created by the Langham Hotel’s Palm Court Cafe. The subtle freshness of green tea pairs well with the strong fruit-floral of lychee for a truly exotic flavour combination that’s sure to impress your guests.
Lychee also works well as a balance for very sweet desserts. In this Pavlova with Lychee and Pomegranate, the slight acidity of lychee and the tartness of pomegranate add a touch of sophistication to the decadent mountain of meringue and sweet vanilla cream. This recipe is great for beginners - a real showstopper, but deceptively easy to prepare.
If you love cupcakes, these dainty Lychee and Rose Cupcakes are the prettiest tea-time treat. The delicate rose flavour brings out the floral notes of the lychee, and they look simply irresistible topped with a swirl of pink buttercream and a rose petal.
Or, for a light and refreshing dessert, try this Lychee and Lime Sorbet. The combination of lychee and lime give this classic recipe a tropical twist, and with only four ingredients, it couldn’t be easier to prepare. This fragrant sorbet is the perfect ending to any meal, deliciously cool on a summer’s day, and completely fat free.