Lychees are oval-round and petite, roughly the size of a walnut, and their leathery skin is covered with tiny spikes. Young lychee fruits start out green, and as they mature, they become blushed with pink and eventually turn a bright red. The pearly-white pulp is covered in juice and houses a dark-brown seed at its center, which can vary in size from 1/2 inch to 1 inch in length, depending on the variety. The firm yet gelatinous pulp is chewy and juicy with a sweet, fruity flavor, like a cross of strawberry and watermelon with a touch of pineapple-like acidity. Lychees are also fragrant with a tropical scent and a hint of roses.
Fresh Lychees are available late spring through mid-summer.
Lychee is botanically classified as Litchi chinensis, and is the only member of the genus, Litchi. It’s a tree fruit in the Soapberry family, which includes chestnut and maple trees, as well as other Chinese fruits like rambutans and longans. There are several varieties of Lychees, with a major distinction among them being types that leak juice when the skin is broken, and the so-called "dry and clean" varieties, which are said to be more desirable.
Lychees are considered to be a super fruit as studies have shown that they contain the second highest amounts of polyphenol antioxidants of all known fruits. They are a very good source of B-complex vitamins, fiber, minerals like potassium and copper, and like other citrus fruits, they are an excellent source of vitamin C.
Outside of fresh eating, Lychees primary uses are in desserts, beverages, cocktails and martinis. Lychees are juiced and used to create syrups, ice creams and teas. Classic sweet companion ingredients include mango, coconut, bananas, passion fruit and pineapple. Lychees also pair well with cashews, sesame, honey, oranges, elderflower, cream and soft mild cheeses, tapioca, grapefruit and blueberries.