This sweet tropical fruit deserves some attention.

Rachel Roszmann
April 27, 2020
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Lychee fruit sitting on wooden board
Credit: Getty Images

If you've spent any time browsing Asian markets, you may have come across lychee fruit. It's a sweet and tart summer fruit from Southern China worth getting to know.

What Is Lychee Fruit?

Sometimes called "alligator strawberries," lychees are a small tropical fruit (similar to rambutan and longan native) to Southeast Asia. Lychees (Litchi chinensis) grow on lychee trees in bunches. About two inches in diameter, a single lychee fruit is about the size of a golf ball and can easily fit in the palm of your hand. When the lychee fruit is ready to eat, it feels heavy and soft, and the tough, bumpy skin is bright red. Peel the skin away and you will find a translucent flesh similar to a grape. The flesh surrounds a large seed or pit like you would find in a plum or cherry. (Related: Why You Should Eat the Rainbow When It Comes to Fruits and Vegetables)

Eaten fresh. the flesh of the fruit is sweet, floral, slightly acidic and very juicy. Some think the flavor compares to a strawberry, watermelon, pear or a blend of the three. In the U.S., fresh lychees are best from May to September. When buying fresh lychees, avoid fruit with dry skin or mushy flesh. The skin dries out quickly, and while you want the skin to be red, it's OK to select fruit with some brown patches.

Finding fresh lychees might be a challenge, but if you're lucky enough to get them, you should know that lychees are delicate and spoil quickly. It's best to store lychees individually wrapped in paper towels in a breathable storage bag in the fridge. Depending on how fresh they were when you got them, they can last that way for about a week. If fresh lychees are out of season or hard to come by, you can find them canned at most Asian markets or online. (Check out more Healthy Fruit Recipes here.)

Health Benefits of Lychee

In addition to being sweet and delicious, lychee also has some nutritional value. A 1-cup serving (190 grams) contains 11% of the Daily Value for vitamin B6, which we need to keep our nervous and immune systems healthy. That same serving size also delivers 151% of the Daily Value for vitamin C, which is beneficial for tissue repair and circulation. Though it's not high in fiber, a serving does provide about 10% of the Daily Value for dietary fiber.

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How to Eat Lychee

Lychees, both fresh and canned, can be enjoyed on their own, but also work well in refreshing drinks. Whole fruit can be blended into smoothies, and lychee juice can be used to make lychee martinis. (If you are using fresh lychees, just remember to remove the seed first!) You can also sneak lychee fruit into savory dishes for an unexpected burst of sweetness: try them in salsas and sauces the same way you would use mango or papaya. If you want to dip your toes into the world of lychees, try EatingWell's recipe for Iced Lychees (pictured above) a refreshing summer treat.