If you grew up in an Asian household than this week's topic, longan, is definitely NOT weird to you. Still, most people in North America have never heard of it. And I sure have a heck of a time finding it around here, always hit or miss, even at my local Asian food market.Longan's better known cousin, lychee, is bigger, fleshier and has reached a certain celebrity status in the cocktail world, appearing in fashionable lychee martinis across the nation. Meanwhile, the smaller, less-showy longan still lives in relative obscurity. I've always been confused by this because whenever I'm confronted with having to choose between buying fresh lychee and longan (the seasons overlap a little), longan is the clear winner!
Longan literally means "dragon eye" in Chinese due to its appearance - underneath the thin leathery beige/brown skin you'll find translucent juicy flesh surrounding a non-edible shiny brown pit. The size and shape is similar to a red globe grape. The texture is also grape-like but the flavor is really unique - so unique in fact that I had to eat almost half my stash to come up with an accurate description for you guys (OK, maybe I was just greedy - as a child, I would eat them non-stop until I gave myself a tummy ache). I may have to go back and eat the rest for a better description but for now, here's my best attempt: sweet, fragrant, refreshing, and slightly floral, like the nectar from a honeysuckle. There's nothing like it! And perhaps I've been lucky, but every longan I've tasted has been sweet and ripe.
Although longan hasn't inspired me yet to write poetry (like I did for my beloved cherimoya), I'm slightly obsessed with them. So I now present...
Longan: A Love Story...
The skin is easy to remove, just use your fingernail to pierce it gently and then it slips off very easily:
Unadulterated sweet glory, translucent, shimmering juicy flesh:
Separate the flesh from the shiny pit:
All gone! (sorry, Kris)
One of my top 5 favorite fruits of all time. I bet you'll love it!
Where to buy:
Fresh (in season during the summer months)
Chinatown/Asian Food Markets ($-$$ I paid a reasonable $4.99 per lb)
Specialty/Gourmet Food Markets ($$$ you'll pay a lot more at non-Asian places)
Online: ($$$$ - only if you are desperate)
Tips on selecting fruit: Longan are harvested when they are ripe. Choose fruit with skin that is free of any mold spots and tight to the flesh (no air pockets - this means the flesh inside is starting to rot). Longan still attached to the branch are fresher than fruits that have become detached. Longan can be kept at room temperature but should be eaten within a couple days of purchase.
You can also find canned longan (in heavy syrup) in your local Chinatown/Asian food market and sometimes in the international aisle of a well-stocked supermarket. Or buy canned longan online here. While not as good as fresh, the canned version retains much of the texture and the flavor of the fresh fruit. Serve it with fruit cocktail and almond jelly as a refreshing dessert. Dried longans are sold in Chinese herbal medicine shops and Asian food markets for their purported health benefits.
And a huge SHOUT OUT to my good friend, Heavenly Housewife, who had her own Weird Food Wednesday adventure with Charentais Melon (which I am unlikely ever to feature since melons are the only fruit I'm allergic to!)