What Is Lychee Fruit?

Here’s what this little tropical fruit tastes like, how to eat it and cook with it, and where to buy it.

Published Aug. 19, 2022.

Lychee, also known as litchi, lichi, or “alligator strawberry,” is a small fruit native to China, where its use in food, drink, and even medicine dates back thousands of years. It grows in clusters on a tropical evergreen tree in warm, wet climates, and it has long been a popular summer treat across Southeast Asia. Nowadays, lychees are grown commercially not only in subtropical Asia but also in Africa and the Americas, including Florida and California in the United States.

What Is Lychee Fruit?

Lychees are about 1½ to 2 inches wide and have a red, scaly, leathery skin. This tough sheath protects a knob of soft, ultrajuicy flesh surrounding a long waxy, inedible seed. The translucent flesh is sweet and floral, with flavor notes reminiscent of strawberry, watermelon, and pear. It's also rich in vitamin C.

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How to Peel and Eat Lychee Fruit

There are a couple of ways to remove a lychee’s skin, both of which keep the fruit intact.

1. Peel off the stem and then continue to strip away the skin and its attached membrane, as if you were peeling an orange. 

2. Alternatively, peel off the stem and, using your thumb and forefinger, gently squeeze the lychee to push the bulbous fruit through the opening. 

To consume the fruit, you can simply nibble the flesh around the seed.

How to Remove the Seed from Lychee Fruit

To use lychees in culinary applications, it’s simple to remove the seed from the peeled fruit.

  • Using a paring knife, score the side of the flesh and work the knife back and forth to loosen it from the seed and then peel away the meat. 
  • To keep the flesh in one piece, place it on a cutting board, stem end up, and use a paring knife to cut around the seed to separate it from the flesh and then pull out the seed to remove it.

How to Buy and Store Lychees

Lychees are in season from late spring to early fall and are available at South Asian markets, farmers’ markets, and often regular supermarkets. Look for firm fruits with a bright pinkish-red skin with little to no blemishing or bruising. Lychees are non-climacteric fruits, meaning they do not continue to ripen once they’re picked. Avoid under-ripe green lychees and brown overripe fruits. 

How to Use Lychee Fruit

The most common way to enjoy lychees is to simply eat them on the own as a snack. But you can also use them in a multitude of applications. Their lightly floral flavors pair nicely with other tropical fruits such as mango and pineapple in salads or smoothies. Create a lychee simple syrup to flavor cocktails, lemonade, and iced tea. You can even stuff the fruits to create elegant hors d’oeuvres.

Lychee Recipes

Here are a couple of recipes to get you started.

Lychee Simple Syrup

  1. Combine equal parts water, sugar, and peeled seeded lychees in a pan.
  2. Simmer 15 minutes, then strain the syrup. Cool and refrigerate until ready to use.
  3. Add syrup to cocktails, lemonade, and iced tea. 

Coconut Cream–Stuffed Lychees

  1. Remove seed from peeled lychees, taking care to keep the fruit intact.
  2. Skim the solid layer of cream from can of coconut milk (chilled 24 hours first) and whip to billowy peaks with sugar and vanilla, if desired. (Find our separate recipe here.)
  3. Pipe whipped coconut cream into lychees. 
  4. Top with toasted shredded coconut and serve immediately.


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