What Is Lychee And How Do You Eat It?

Cakes, jams, martinis, oh my! Though they may be considered an exotic fruit in the United States, lychees have a plethora of uses and an inimitable, delectable flavor — just peel away their scary-looking skin to unveil the sweet, succulent flesh that fills these little balls of heaven. 

First, a quick primer: The lychee (sometimes spelled lichee or litchi) is scientifically called Litchi chinensis, a member of the soapberry family, which grows in subtropical climates and is prized for its "sweet and flowery" notes (via Healthline). These tropical fruits are sometimes called "alligator strawberries," thanks to a prickly red exterior that houses a white fruit with a similar appearance and texture as a grape's flesh, plus a flavor that has been called a strawberry-watermelon fusion (via The Spruce Eats). 

According to HuffPost, lychees are adored throughout Southeast Asia and in China, where they originate, and sprout in clusters on trees until their intense red hue signals harvest time. In the United States, they can flourish in warm states like Hawaii and Florida, and are then picked in summer — but, unlike with many fruits, the ripening process does not continue after they're plucked off the tree.

The preparation and benefits of lychees

As would be expected, the bumpy lychee skin must be removed before eating, either by tearing off one end and squeezing the globe of fruit out, or digging into the stem area (or cutting the skin off lengthwise) and peeling; then, finally, extract the inner seed by slicing around the fruit. The seeds are considered inedible, though in India, according to Livestrong, they're used in powdered form for teas to relieve pain or digestion issues. 

Unfortunately, lychees have also been linked to health concerns in that country: In 2019, CNN reported on an outbreak of acute encephalitis syndrome among dozens of children in northern India, believed to be caused by toxins in lychees. But it was determined that the culprits were more complex, a byproduct of malnutrition and consumption of unripened fruits — so, yes, lychees are generally safe to eat (via Proactive Health Labs). 

Actually, lychees offer a variety of health benefits — in addition to packing vitamins C and B6, niacin, potassium, copper, and more, they offer cancer-fighting antioxidant properties, according to Organic Facts. And, if you can't locate the fresh version of this tropical wonder locally, try to tap their floral flavors in another form: The Spruce Eats notes that they can also be found canned or dried at select stores, such as Asian markets.