Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Lychees are subtropical Asian tree fruits (from Litchi chinensis) the size of a small plum, with a dry, loose skin and a large seed. The edible portion is its fleshy seed covering, or aril, which is pale white, sweet, and distinctively floral due to the presence of a number of terpenes (rose oxide, linalool, geraniol; Gewürztraminer grapes and wine share many of the same notes). Lychees with small, undeveloped seeds are called “chicken-tongue” fruit and are prized because there’s more flesh than seed. Lychees don’t improve in flavor once taken from the tree. A common problem with lychees is a brown discoloration of the flesh due to drying out or chilling injury. They’re best held at cool room temperatures in a loose plastic bag. When cooked, fresh lychees sometimes develop a pink undertone as phenolic aggregates are broken apart and converted into anthocyanin pigments. They’re eaten fresh, canned in syrup, made into drinks, sauces, and preserves, cooked briefly and served with meats and seafood, and frozen into sorbets and ice creams. “Lychee nuts” are the dried fruits, not the seeds.