July 15, 2015
Meet some of the tropic’s most prized fruits! Longan, lychee, quenepa, and rambutan look similar – and indeed are closely related – but each has a flavor all its own. These tropical members of the Sapindaceae family, also known as the soapberry family, are cousins of the temperate maple and chestnut trees. They grow particularly well in regions with year-round humidity; steady, warm temperatures; and no dry season, such as Southeast Asia, Central America, and Florida. Their short season extends only from July to September, making them a coveted summer indulgence. These mysterious little round fruits all boast exotic, succulent flesh - but it’s worth getting to know their unique characteristics!
Check out our guide to the world’s most popular tropical soapberries:
One of Asia’s most prized fruits, the longan grows on majestic tropical evergreen trees yielding up to 500 pounds of fruit per season. Dropping in clusters, these small, 1-inch globes have thin, rough, yellow-brown rinds that are easy to open. Slightly drier and less floral than its cousin, the lychee, longan flesh is sweet and almost musky in flavor with hints of spruce, almond, and cognac. Often called “Dragon’s Eye” in China due to its ebony black seed and creamy white flesh, the longan’s mysterious flavor profile pairs well with both sweet and savory dishes.
In Chinese medicine, longan is believed to invigorate the heart, improve eye function, and have a relaxing effect on the nervous system. It contains generous amounts of iron, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C.
The distinctive lychee nut comes from a tropical and subtropical tree native to South Asia and Malaysia, where it is a symbol of romance and love. The small fruits grow in grape-like clusters of five to 30 pieces. About the size of a golf ball, the lychee has rough, bumpy inedible skin that is light green with a bright red blush when ripe. Inside, white, succulent, juicy flesh surrounds a single small brown seed. Delicate and grape-like in texture, the lychee boasts an enlivening floral aroma with delicate flavors of rose petal, cherry, and pineapple. A refreshing, sweet tropical treat.
The lychee is a bona fide superfruit, containing the second highest amount of polyphenol antioxidants of all fruits. Additionally, these little delicacies are an excellent source of vitamin C.
Representing the New World is the quenepa, another member of the Sapindaceae family, this one native to Central and South America. Also known as mamoncillo, genip, guaya, and Spanish lime, this large tropical tree bears bunches of ½ to 1 inch fruits with matte, leathery green skin. Break open the casing by biting with the teeth, and creamy, sweet yellow-y orange or salmon-colored flesh can be sucked or scraped off of its single large brown seed. With a sweet-tart flavor somewhat like a lychee combined with a lime, it’s no wonder these little delicacies are wildly popular in the Caribbean, Mexico, and northern South America.
Boasting an array of essential vitamins and minerals, quenepa has long been an important part of a healthy diet in the New World tropics. Used traditionally to lower blood pressure, alleviate digestive issues, and lower fevers, quenepa is a bona fide powerful little fruit.
With the appearance of a blowfish and a seductively floral flavor, it’s no wonder rambutan is so widely grown in its native Southeast Asia. Sister to the lychee and named for the Malay word “rambut,” meaning “hair,” rambutan is pinky-orange in color and covered in long, soft bristles that are bright green or slightly brown. Easy to peel, the flesh is milky white and juicy with a striking floral aroma and firm, but creamy, grape-like texture. Slippery, sweet, and irresistible, rambutans are commonly eaten out of hand. A single small seed inside may be boiled or roasted.
Rambutan has been used medicinally for centuries to relieve digestive issues. It contains generous amount of essential minerals and B vitamins.
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