Lychee Vs. Rambutan Vs. Longan: How Are They Different?

Lychee, rambutan, and longan are all sweet and delicious: a soft, tender flesh ensconced in a firm, beguiling shell. The flavors are cherished worldwide, but differentiating between the three can be quite a challenge. 

All three fruits are sold canned or jarred — usually in syrups — in case you can't find fresh. Longan has the most subtle flavor, with more overt sweetness and less floral notes than rambutan or lychee. While they all have white flesh, are grown on trees, and have a large, dark seed in the middle, they do have their own traits. Rambutan is creamier than the others, and a bit larger. Lychee is a bit crisper and more acidic. Longan is a bit more tart.

All three are great sources of vitamin C, according to Healthline. Their flavors can be similar when combined with alcohol or enjoyed in sorbets or desserts. They are also all delicious in cheese plates, fruit salads, savory sauces, syrups, cocktails, custards, jellies, smoothies, and much more. Some even freeze the peeled fruit and enjoy it as a cooling treat, but just be sure to remember to remove and/or spit out the seed! Read ahead for more specific differentiation between the three similar fruits. 

What is lychee?

Lychee is a rather small fruit with a unique appearance. It is native to China, but also grows in other warm areas in multiple countries. It is sometimes called "alligator strawberry" or a lychee nut. The flavor is slightly floral and can be eaten as is, but is also often blended or pureed into cocktails, desserts, or smoothies. The fruit contains a husk or shell, the pale flesh, and a seed.

One Green Planet notes that lychee is a member of the soapberry family. It pairs well with other tropical fruits, contains vitamins C and B, and can also promote the production of red blood cells and reduce the risks of heart disease and cancer. It's also high in fiber. While the outer shell may appear hard or difficult to work with, it actually peels off quite easily, but be gentle! The flesh of the lychee is quite delicate — almost like a peeled grape.

What is rambutan?

Rambutan (isn't that such a fun word?) is eaten throughout Asia and Australia. It almost appears "hairy," is typically green and red, and its edible innards are very similar looking to lychee flesh. Rambutan are the largest of the three and are almost golfball-like in size. 

They are used in the same types of preparations as lychee — cocktails, snacking on the fruit as-is, on cheese boards, in salads, etc. While it may look sharp, the "spikes" are actually fleshy and pliable. There is also an inedible seed inside rambutan flesh, just like with lychees. The flavor is almost like a grape-strawberry combination. It is less sweet and less acidic than lychee. It is high in vitamin C, copper, manganese, and other nutrients (via Healthline). If you're looking to chow down on one, it's suggested that you wait to peel rambutan until right before you eat it. They are delicate and can go bad quickly once picked apart.

What is longan?

Longan also goes by "dragon's eye" and has a thin, leathery skin. Longan has a long history in traditional Chinese medicine, according to Chalkboard Magazine. They are sometimes called euphoria fruit and have anti-aging and sexual health benefits. They are also said to improve eye function, relieve stress, and improve skin health. The fruit also contains iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and is sometimes called a super fruit. 

Britannica notes that the fruit is spherical and usually yellowish-brown and grows in clusters. It is called "dragon's eye" because of the appearance of the large black seed within the pale, yellow flesh. Its flavor can be almost honey-like, and in traditional Chinese medicine, longan is brewed with red dates and Chinese rock sugar, creating a delicious and healthful tea-like beverage. Stylecraze notes that longan seed can actually be processed to yield nutritional oils and extracts, too. It can have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and even wound healing benefits. It is sometimes used in shampoos and soaps. Longan can also reduce stress, treat insomnia, promote skin health, treat anemia.

No matter which of the three you prefer, they're clearly all delicious options that not only taste great but are also great for you.