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Litchi - The Fresh Ones (also lychee, lichi)*

By Luci

Litchi fruit grows on an evergreen tree native to South China. Its cultivation dates to the 11th century in China; it is now grown across South Asia and Latin America.

The edible fruit is inside a brown or reddish shell. To eat, break the thin shell (easy) and remove the white fruit; then remove the brown, inedible seed inside (also easy).

Lichis have a delightful floral aroma. The taste varies from super sweet with spicy notes to slightly sweet with a mildly musky undertone. A fresh litchi is ambrosial, a thing of joy that sparkles in the mouth, a far cry from the cloying sweetness of syrupy, canned litchis.

At least before climate change, South Asia litchis started to appear in the markets in May, with one peak in June and another in August. When I lived in Japan, people would eagerly look forward to their first appearance in markets. Here on Staten Island, I have found them even in winter in Costco and Girardi’s. Asian markets, of course, will carry them. They are usually sold in large bundles like the one I purchased recently in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

How to use fresh litchi? As you would any other sweet fruit. As most Americans are not familiar with fresh litchi, it is best to introduce them in simple preparations that showcase the unique taste, as exemplified by the following cocktails, appetizers and desserts.


An Internet search of cocktails with litchis revealed drinks which usually used either overly sweet litchi syrup or simply a garnish of litchi. To sample fresh litchi, why not put a couple of litchi in a glass and gently smash them up a bit to release their juices. That will produce the flavor of fresh litchi in the drink and give guests the pleasure of eating the soused litchis.

The Rummy

It’s a great way to start a summer dinner: definitely tropical, decidedly entertaining and pleasantly potent.

You will need peeled and pitted litchis, a good dark rum, and orange liqueur.


  1. Place two litchis in the bottom of a cocktail glass. Smash them a bit with a pestle to release some of the juices.

  2. Add 2 ounces of dark rum and 1 ounce of orange liqueur. I tried Cointreau and Grand Marnier. The bitter notes of Grand Marnier balanced the sweetness of the litchi and rum whereas Cointreau lacked that modifying effect. Add ice.

  3. Garnish the glass with one litchi.

The Ginger

Another great starter. Ginger furnishes a kick to the sweet and spicy notes in both bourbon and litchis.

You will need peeled and pitted litchis, bourbon, ginger ale and candied ginger.


  1. Place two litchis in the bottom of a cocktail glass. Smash them a bit with a pestle to release some of the juices.

  2. Add 2 ounces of bourbon, 3 ounces of ginger ale and ice.

  3. Garnish with a kabob of litchi and candied ginger.


Guests are impressed by unusual starters. They supply surprise, intrigue and pleasant anticipation of more good stuff to come.

Litchi and Thai Basil Wrapped in Bacon

Pork and fruit are wonderful together. A fragrant herb heightens the delight.

The classic appetizer is prosciutto wrapped around melon with a basil leaf. In the dinner titled “Spring into Summer” in The Dish on Dazzling Dinners, we substituted litchi for melon; the result - YUMMY! Of course. There is fat and salt and sweetness, a bit of spice and a soupçon of licorice. In this version, the combination is litchi, Thai basil and bacon - also YUMMY. I tried it with mint and that, too, was yum yum.

For each appetizer you will need 1 litchi, peeled and seeded; 1 leaf of Thai basil (or mint) and 1 strip of bacon that has been cooked slowly over low heat to render most of the fat, but keep the bacon pliable enough for a wrap.


Blot the litchi with a paper towel. Place it on the slice of bacon, top with one leaf of Thai basil and roll up. Secure with a toothpick.

Litchi and Balsamic Vinegar

This little appetizer, like the one above, is based on a classic Italian one - ripe pear with balsamic vinegar.

You will need litchis and a good balsamic vinegar (yep, that means an expensive one from Modena, marked by the wax seal on the bottle).


Cut the litchis in half. Blot each half litchi with a paper towel. Using an eye dropper, put one or two drops of vinegar on each half. That’s it!

Litchi, Cream Cheese, Sour Cream, and Chives in Phyllo Cup

Fruit and cream cheese or yogurt are commonly combined and are often closer to dessert than snack. To move the dish to the savory side, add sour cream and chives (another common combo). For elegance of presentation, put the mixture in phyllo cups.

You will need shelled and seeded litchi, cream cheese, sour cream, chopped chives and phyllo shells.


  1. Blot the litchi on a paper towel and chop into small chunks.

  2. Combine cream cheese and sour cream in equal amounts. Add a generous amount of litchi, more or less to your taste for sweetness, and a generous amount of chopped chives.

  3. Crisp the phyllo shells according to package directions. Stuff with the above combination.

  4. Garnish with a small sprinkle of chives and a piece of litchi.


Don’t you like to end your dinner parties memorably? That means a dessert that is beautiful, unusual and intriguing. Here’s two.

Litchi with Kahlua and Coconut

Kahlua is sweet and slightly bitter, tasting of coffee, chocolate and vanilla with a rich and smooth mouth feel. It’s a perfect complement to litchi and coconut.

You will need shelled and seeded litchis, Kailua and sweetened coconut.


Cut the litchis in half, allowing about 6 per person. Macerate them in Kahlua for about 30 minutes. Put in small dessert bowls and top with sweetened coconut.

Litchi, Watermelon and Blueberry Kabob

Simple, gorgeous and ever so patriotic. July 4th? Absolutely! It could be a neat appetizer as well as a dessert.

You will need shelled and peeled litchis, bright red watermelon and large blueberries.


Cut litchis in half. Cut a slice of watermelon about 1/2 inch thick; use the small end of a melon baller to cut out balls. Use a pretty pick to skewer the watermelon, litchi and blueberry.

Note: I prefer spelling the fruit with a “t” because the pronunciation of many Asians sounds a slight plosive “t” sound, However, lychee is the popular spelling in the U.S.


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