The aromatic lychee was brought into Thailand by Chinese migrants during the 17 century from its home in southern China, where it has been cultivated for thousands of years. Closely related to the rambutan and longan, it growns in clusters on a small evergreen tree (normally around 10 meters tall) that is covered in thick green foliage. In Thailand, 20 varieties of lychees are cultivated.
Three of these are popular exports – the “Hong Huai,” oval shaped with a brittle, yellowish- pinky-red skin that taste sweet and slightly sour; the “Kim-Cheng,” globular with a small seed and a bright red skin with flesh that taste very sweet, and the “Chakraphat,” (emperor), large and globular shaped with a bright red skin and very sweet taste. The sweet flesh of the fruit serves as cover to an egg-shaped, chestnut-like seed. The lychee season – from April to June – is eagerly awaited in Thailand, and no small amount of money is paid to secure that best fruit.
At the end of the season, many lychee gourmets travel to Chiang Mai where the price is generally cheaper. The fruit is popularly used in desserts such as chilled lychees with coconut custard, or lychees in sweet syrup, or coconut milk and crushed ice. The lychee is not only an exotic fruit, it is also a sensual one.
It is hardly surprising that an early Chinese book written around the 11th century was about lychee, also known as Chinese nuts and taste a little like raisins. In western cooking, lychees will add a touch of excitement to fruit and savory salads, meats and all types of desserts such as poached lychee in wine or syrup, cakes, pudding, pancake and mousses. It may also be bottled, pickled or made into a preserve.
Lychee complements fish very well and can be used to make sweet and sour sauce for pork or chicken. It may be added to stir-fried dishes and meat or fish pates or used to make an accompanying sauce. Lychees are among Thailand’s leading economic crops. Cultivation is steadily grown and market potential is great, as the fruit can be transported over long distances without losing its