What Is Lychee Fruit?

Try this tropical fruit for a bright burst of flavor in your favorite desserts and cocktails.

lychee fruit with visible seeded interior
Photo: Getty Images

You've likely noticed lychee popping up on menus everywhere — especially in desserts and cocktails (lychee martini, anyone?). This is because, besides being more commercially available, lychee's refreshing pop and combination of subtle melon, berry, and floral notes lends itself incredibly well to cocktails, sorbets, and even salsas.

What Is Lychee?

Lychee is a fruit that grows on an evergreen tree in warm, wet climates. Beloved of the Cantonese since ancient times, lychees (also spelled litchis or lichis) are native to Southeast Asia. Today, they grow commercially in China, India, subtropical Asia, and Florida.

A lychee is round or oblong shaped and has a red, bumpy and leathery skin, earning it the moniker "alligator strawberry." Made up of three layers: the tough husk, juicy white slightly transparent flesh, and long seed, its proportion of edible flesh to skin is large and its husk easy to remove, making it quite enjoyable.

Lychee vs. Rambutan

Lychees are often confused with rambutan, which is understandable given that they're from the same botanical family and they look incredibly similar once the fruit has been removed from the skin.

The key differences to note are that lychees are smaller (measuring 1 ½ - 2 inches to a rambutan's golf ball size), and rambutans resemble small Koosh balls or sea anemones with spiky hairs covering the outer skin. Rambutans also have a creamier taste that differs from the florals of the lychee.

What Does Lychee Taste Like?

Lychees are typically eaten fresh, even though canned and dried versions are available. The fruit is white and glossy in appearance with a texture similar to that of a firm grape and the pleasant floral aroma. The flavor of a lychee is sweet, with notes of citrus and watermelon, but most notably tastes of a cross between strawberry and pear with rose water mixed in.

Is Lychee Good for You?

Lychees are rich in vitamin C and a good source of copper and potassium, but when purchasing these red orbs, it's paramount to check for freshness. This is because unripe lychees have higher levels of toxins and once picked, they do not ripen further.

Ripe lychees are larger than an inch in diameter, have bright red skin, and give a little when pinched between your fingers. They're also free of blemishes and soft spots and have a soft, floral scent. If any show cracks, are oozing liquid, or smell fermented, the fruit is spoiled and should not be consumed.

How to Use Lychee Fruit

Though enjoying it on its own is always the most popular option, it's also delicious in fruit salads, desserts, juices, and smoothies, or boiled down into a syrup for cocktails or tea. Simply pierce the outer husk with your nail and peel back the skin for easy removal. From here, you can either pop the lychee into your mouth and discard the waxy, inedible seed, or score and split the fruit in half, removing the seed that will stick to one side like an avocado pit.

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