Key Ingredient

Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga

Ingredient of the week


This relative of the revered lychee fruit has often been referred to as the "poorer cousin" of the lychee, but it is tasty in its own right. Although not as abundant and popular as lychee, successful cultivation on the Big Island means both supply and demand are increasing.

The basics: Longan, also known as dragon's eye, is native to Southern China and Southeast Asia. The fruit is in the same family as lychee and rambutan and is now cultivated here and in Australia.

Longan grows in clusters and is smaller than lychee, about the size of a cherry, with a smooth brownish-tan skin. The flesh is translucent with a dark brown center pit. The texture is a bit crunchier than lychee, with less juice. The flavor is sweet and fruity, but less acidic than lychee.

Selecting: Longan is sold either in clusters with branches attached or in 1-to 2-pound bags. Look for fruit that is free of blemishes and brown spots. Larger fruit is preferable, as the skin is time consuming to remove.

Storing: Fresh, unpeeled, longan may be stored in the refrigerator for a week or two.

Use: Fresh longan is best eaten out of hand. The skin, which is rather brittle, must be peeled. Canned longan is more convenient for fruit salads and desserts, while dried longan is used in cooking for a concentrated fruity flavor in dishes such as sweet meats.

Where to buy: Longan is available in Chinatown and some Asian markets. The season is short, generally August through October. Prices run from $4 to $6 a pound.

Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga is
a free-lance food writer. Contact her
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