When I was at the store last week, I came across a basket of spiny, scaly, strange little things that looked like they belonged in a Dr. Seuss book. Naturally, I was intrigued.
LYCHEES! I’ve never seen a fresh lychee before – only canned or jarred. I picked up five and brought them home.
Lychees are a tree fruit and they’re more closely related to chestnuts (another food item I recently tried for the first time) and maple trees than any other types of fruit. Lychee trees grow in tropical climates and are native to southeast Asia – particularly southern China and Malaysia. Only three US states – California, Hawaii and Florida – have commercial lychee production (I forgot to notice where these lychees came from). In Asia, lychees were enjoyed as a delicacy by the ruling members of Chinese dynasties for over a millenium, and now they’re popular throughout Asia, and are frequently canned and jarred. They’re also used to make tea, ice cream, and syrups, which are popular in beverages and cocktails. I know I’ve tried lychees from a can or jar at some point in my life, but I can’t remember when, where, how, or any of the details.
I solicited for advice on how to eat lychees (another reason to follow me on Twitter!), and among the responses I got was a text from my friend Debbie, who suggested:
Peel the hard husk and scrape off the fruit from the seed in the middle. The seed is pretty big in relation to the fruit itself, so sometimes it’s depressing how little the payoff is.
Very informative, Debbie, and I also appreciate you managing my expectations!
After a few days on my counter, my lychees had ripened to a beautiful brown with red flecks (which didn’t show on camera as much as I would’ve liked):
I had so idea what to expect when I peeled them, but I assumed the husk would have some thickness. Turns out the husk is very thin and cracks and breaks much like an eggshell. Peeling these guys were a lot like peeling hard boiled eggs!
And here’s a lychee fully de-husked:
For the first lychee, I ignored Debbie’s advice about scraping the fruit from the seed, and instead, popped the whole thing in my mouth and sucked the fruit from the seed. Debbie wasn’t lying about the size of the seed compared to the size of the whole fruit!
For the second lychee, I tried using a paring knife to separate the fruit from the seed. That didn’t work too well and I ended up finishing the job in the same manner as the first lychee.
For the third lychee, I just used my fingers, and that worked best. In a matter of seconds I had the fruit separated from all the inedible parts:
I wouldn’t say I’ve very good at describing how things taste (perhaps, if you’ve read this blog for a while, you’d agree!), but describing a lychee seems particularly daunting. I suppose I should start with my obvious reaction: it’s delicious! Both the flavor and the texture are extraordinarily unique. In terms of texture, it’s very juicy and rather gelatinous, but still slightly chewy. It quickly falls apart in your mouth. They’re very sweet and mellow, and taste like… like… I can’t come up with a comparison. Some descriptions online compare them to grapes crossed with other things (like pears), but I don’t see it. My favorite description came from Specialty Produce, an app I have on my iPhone:
Lychees bring the fragrance of roses, the sweetness of cherries, the acidic brightness of pineapple, and the mellow flavor of green grapes together in one mouthful.
While thoughtful and sorta hilarious, that description is bullshit. Lychees are delicious, and unlike any other fruit around. Case closed. (Please don’t point out that, within two paragraphs, I admitted I can’t describe flavors and then belittled those who can. Yes, Yes, I’m a bad person.)
OH – THE BENEFITS! Hopefully what I’ve written above helps convince you why you’d want to eat lychees, and here’s why you absolutely should: Lychees are high in vitamin C, and are considered a super fruit due to their high levels of polyphenol antioxidants (the second highest among all fruits). Lychees are used in Chinese medicine, particularly as a pain reliever and as a digestive aid.
I hope I see more lychees in the stores, because I’d definitely buy them again!
KEEP IT UP, DAVID!