Food & Drink

What Is Lychee and How Do You Use It?

Last Updated on March 5, 2024 | 0 Comments
Fresh lychee in a bowl next to more lychee

Lychee is a sweet, slightly floral fruit with deep roots in Asian cuisine. It has also been increasing in popularity in the United States, making it a trendy new ingredient to try. This guide will take you behind the trendiness of this ingredient and tell you everything you need to know about using this fruit in martinis, fruit salads and more.

 With delicious taste and added health benefits, lychee, also commonly spelled litchi and lichee, really is worth a try. Whether you sample a lychee martini at a local restaurant or bring some fresh lychee home to serve as a light and fruity dessert option, this Asian delicacy is a sweet new addition to your kitchen.


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What Is Lychee?

If you are unfamiliar with this increasingly popular fruit, you might be wondering, “What is a lychee?” Lychee fruit is originally native to Southeast Asia and has been a staple in Asian cuisine for many years. With its recent increase in popularity and availability in America, you might have started noticing this ingredient popping up in local grocery stores or on the menus at your favorite restaurants. 

This fruit, belonging to the soapberry family, is often nicknamed the "alligator strawberry" due to its rugged, bumpy exterior and vibrant red hue. Lychee, typically petite in size and ranging from one to two inches in width, presents a whitish exterior with a texture reminiscent of a crisp grape. Upon opening, you'll discover a smooth, oblong, waxy seed nestled within.

Lychee has long been considered a delicacy in Asian cultures because there is a high ratio of fruit when compared to the amount of skin or rind on the lychee. Since it has become more popular in recent years, its territory has grown to include other warm, tropical climates, especially in Eastern Asian countries close to its original homeland of China. You can even find lychee fruit popping up in Florida, where it has become a new and important crop.

Fresh lychees with and without the rind
via Canva

When Is Lychee Season?

Lychee is a summer fruit, so if you are looking to include the incredibly fresh lychee in your recipes, your best chance to find it is mid-June through mid-July. These dates are somewhat flexible, as growers often harvest it earlier to get it to stores in time. If you are looking for lychee out of season, you can also find canned varieties or dried lychee at various online retailers.

Ripe lychee fruits on a tree
via Canva

What Does Lychee Taste Like?

What does a lychee taste like? This is the main question anyone who is unfamiliar with the fruit might find themselves asking when confronted with the red, knobby rind of a lychee. Lychee is sweet and has flavors similar to pears, strawberries and citrus fruits. Many lychee enthusiasts also claim that the fruit has a floral flavor that gives it a unique taste, unlike other fruits.

Hand holding a peeled lychee
via Canva

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How To Eat Lychee

Lychee’s distinctive flavor makes it perfect for sweet dishes like desserts, jellies and more. You can also use lychee in a traditional fruit salad to add a little bit of extra flair, or even turn it into a syrup that can be used to create delicious cocktails, such as a lychee martini.

In addition to lychee cocktails, you can use it to make ice cream that would be perfect for a hot summer night. The somewhat unique flavor profile of the alligator strawberry makes it the perfect companion to other bright, tropical fruits like coconut, pineapple and mango. Try it as a topping for ice cream, or even paired with other summer fruits and a simple angel food cake.

And of course, one of the most popular ways to serve lychee is to simply enjoy it as a stand-alone sweet fruit. There’s a reason that this fruit has been a long-standing staple in Asian cuisine; its fruity and floral flavor profile is unique and delicious, making it good for a fruit plate or even as a simple snack throughout the day.

A lychee martini next to lychee fruit
via Canva

How To Cut Lychee

Although lychee does have a tough outer husk, it is relatively easy to open and peel. You can pinch the husk together and use your fingernail to slice it open before peeling it back and away from the fruit. You also may be able to open the fruit by pinching the ends and sliding the fruit out of the rind. From there, simply slice it like you would slice an avocado, using the blade of your knife to score the fruit and remove the seed like an avocado pit. The waxy brown seed of the lychee is not edible, so be sure that you discard it before eating the fruit itself. 

If you would like to brush up on your knife work skills or learn how to incorporate new and exciting ingredients like lychee into your favorite recipes, consider finding cooking classes near you or online cooking classes that can help you step up your game in the kitchen. 

If you’d like to learn more about incorporating lychee into tasty beverages, try taking mixology classes taught by leading experts who can help you improve your mixology skills just in time for your next gathering. 

Lychees and leaves on a ceramic plate
via Canva

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Is Lychee Good for You?

Is lychee healthy? With every new ingredient that seems to burst on the scene, many people wonder if it has health benefits. As with most foods, lychee has benefits and drawbacks, and it is best for each individual to decide whether to indulge in lychee and how often. Whether or not this fruit is a good fit for you depends on your personal fitness and diet goals.

In terms of general health benefits, lychee is a fruit, so eating a serving or two can help you meet the recommended servings of fruit and vegetables. It has also been shown to contain healthy amounts of vitamin C and antioxidants which can benefit your overall health. Lychee has additionally been shown to promote healthy liver function. Of course, all of these general health benefits are still subject to your own individual needs and goals, so be sure to do your own investigation before eating. 

Peeled lychess on a ceramic plate
via Canva

Where To Buy Lychee

Fresh lychee can sometimes be found at your local supermarket when it is in season, but for the best chance of finding it fresh, visit the closest Asian market. If you cannot find fresh lychee, there are other options available, like dried or canned lychees, which can often be found online or at the grocery store. 

When purchasing fresh lychee, be sure to look for fruit that is brightly colored and firm. You certainly do not want your lychees to be soft or oozing any type of liquid, as that is a sign that the fruit is damaged and spoiled. Instead, look for fruit with intact skin that is slightly bouncy to the touch. 

It is also important to note that lychee does not continue to ripen after it has been harvested, so it is always best to enjoy it when it is fresh. Similarly, be sure that once you peel the rind off of it, you eat it right away, as it doesn’t last long outside of the hard, protective rind. 

Lychees on a picnic basket with leaves in the background
via Canva

This guide to lychee aims to provide answers to the most pressing questions about this unique fruit. If you are intrigued by what you have read, consider adding this popular fruit to your next menu or purchase some fresh lychee to enjoy as a simple and delicious snack. 

For even more ways to explore your favorite foods, check out other experiences happening on Cozymeal.