At first glance, the litchi is a fruit that looks like a strawberry with alligator skin, which is why some folks call them alligator strawberries in the South. The fruit is red like a strawberry, but the exterior is rough and tough. You must peel the litchi to get to the edible interior. Once peeled, the litchi looks like a peeled grape and has a similar pearly grape-like texture. The tasty litchi flesh surrounds a large inedible seed.
Its delicious sweet flavor is likened to a fusion of strawberries, watermelon, and grapes.
Litchis (also known as lychee and litchi nut) are native to Asia and have been a prized fruit in China for more than 2,000 years. They are grown in tropical climates, particularly Florida and Hawaii. Prime season for fresh litchis is June and July, but they are also available canned and dried. When dried, they are referred to as litchi nuts.
The litchi must be peeled to get to the edible flesh. The outer leathery skin also has a thin inner membrane that must be removed before eating, much like a pomegranate. As the ripened fruit ages, the skin and inner membrane lose water and become tougher, fusing together. If the skin comes off easily with the inner membrane, the storage time is greatly shortened.
Many folks simply use their fingernail to dig into the stem end and peel off the skin from the lychee.
If you're peeling a large quantity for a recipe, use a serrated knife to cut through the skin lengthwise all around the seed. If the litchi is very fresh, you'll need to gently peel away the skin and inner membrane much like peeling an orange. If the lychees have been stored for awhile, the skin and membrane will peel away easily, usually in whole halves after scoring around the seed.
If the lychees are very ripe, you can simply tear off one end of the skin, then pinch toward the opposite end to propel the fruit out of the skin and into your mouth or bowl.
Once the outer skin and inner membrane are removed, you'll find a fruit that looks much like a peeled green grape. The edible meat surrounds a large seed. Cut lengthwise around the meat to the seed, and pull the meat away from the pointed end of the seed. It should release from the seed fairly easily if the fruit is properly ripened.
Lychee / Litchi Selection and Storage
Select fruit with a bright coloring, light red to deep red, with no blemishes. The skin is naturally tough and leathery, but it should be pliable and not overly dull, dry or dark. If the fruit tastes bitter or sour, it is not ripe. Unfortunately, lychees cease ripening once picked. Avoid lychees that are cracked, leaking, or smell fermented.
Fresh litchis should be wrapped in a paper towel, placed in a perforated plastic bag, and stored in the refrigerator for up to one week. They will begin to ferment as they age, so use them quickly.
Lychees may also be frozen. Simply place the fruit, skin on, in a zipper bag, suck out the air, and seal.
Canned litchis are also available.
Litchi "nuts" are the dried form of the fruit which looks and taste much like a raisin.
Lychee / Litchi Usage
Litchis are a natural addition to fruit. Add some to chicken salad or stir-fries for a sweet touch. They are also used in sweet-and-sour sauces as well as sauces.
|•||Uncommon Fruits & Vegetables|
|•||The Great Exotic Fruit Book|