Lychees are an intriguing fruit, with a rough, cobbled, bright red rind with a pale white, fleshy interior that surrounds a brown, oblong-shaped nut. While the rind is inedible, the fruit itself has a lovely, sweet and distinctly floral flavor. This southern China native is prized in Chinese culture and is considered to be good luck. With a name that means “gift for a joyful life,” the lychee is best eaten fresh, so take advantage of the luscious lychee when it is in season.
Fresh for the Season
The lychee tree grows in tropical climates. Having originated in southern China, the lychee is now grown throughout Asia, Africa, Australia, parts of South America and Central America and also in some parts of the U.S. including California, Hawaii, Texas and Florida. Lychee season typically begins in May or June, runs through the summer and ends in September. While you can buy canned lychees all year, some of the fragrant flavor is lost in the canning process, so take advantage of fresh lychees while they are in season to enjoy their flavor to the fullest.
Choose Lychees Wisely
Asian and specialty markets usually sell lychees, but you may also find them at a regular supermarket. When selecting lychees, choose those with brightly colored skins that are free of blemishes. Also look for lychees that are still attached to the stem as they are more likely to be fresh. Gently press the rind with your thumb to test the lychee’s ripeness; it should give slightly. Don't buy soft lychees as they're likely to be over-ripe. Over-ripe lychees can be difficult to spot so ask for a sample if you’re unsure.
Peel, Eat, Repeat
Fresh lychees can be stored, unshelled, for up to 10 days in the refrigerator. To eat, firmly press on one end of the lychee shell til it splits open or use your fingernail to peel open the rind. Pinch the center of the shell and the fruit should slide right out. Peel the fruit away from the seed and eat.
Lychees work well in sauces, syrups and preserves, as well as refreshing beverages and delightful cocktails. You can also use them to make sorbets and ice creams. In China, lychees are cooked with pork, shrimp and chicken -- the delicate floral flavor of the lychee complements meat and seafood dishes.