Longan fruit is sweet, juicy and succulent in superior agricultural varieties. People do not consume the seed and the shell. Apart from being eating fresh and raw, longan fruit also plays a role in Asian soups, snacks, desserts, and sweet-and-sour foods, either fresh or dried, and sometimes preserved and canned in syrup. The taste is different from lychees; while longan have a drier sweetness similar to dates, lychees are often messily juicy with a more tropical, grape-like sour sweetness.
Dried longan are often in Chinese cuisine and Chinese sweet dessert soups. In Chinese food and herbal medicine, they belive longan to have an effect on relaxation. In contrast with the fresh fruit, which is juicy and white, the flesh of dried longans is dark brown to almost black.
It is one of the better-known tropical members of the soapberry family (Sapindaceae), to which the lychee, rambutan, guarana, korlan, pitomba, genip and ackee also belong. It is native to Southern Asia.
History of Longan
The belief is that it originates from the mountain range between Myanmar and south China. Other reported origins include India, Sri Lanka, upper Myanmar, north Thailand, Cambodia, north Vietnam and New Guinea. However, the earliest record of existence draws back to the Han Dynasty in 200 BC. The emperors demand was to plant lychee and longan trees in his palace gardens in Shaanxi, however the plants failed. Four hundred years later, longan trees flourished in other parts of China like Fujian and Guangdong. Longan production soon became an industry there.
Later on, due to immigration and the growing demand for nostalgic foods, the longan tree was officially introduced to Australia in the mid-1800s, Thailand in the late-1800s, and Hawaii and Florida in the 1900s. The warm, sandy-soiled conditions allowed for the easy growth of longan trees. This jump-started the longan industry in these locations.
Despite its long success in China, it is a relatively new fruit to the world. It has only been acknowledged outside of China in the last 250 years.
The fruit is so named because it resembles an eyeball when its fruit is shelled (the black seed shows through the translucent flesh like a pupil/iris). The seed is small, round and hard, and of an enamel-like, lacquered black. The fully ripened, freshly harvested fruit has a bark-like shell, thin, and firm, making the fruit easy to peel by squeezing the pulp out as if one were “cracking” a sunflower seed. When the shell has more moisture content and is more tender, the fruit becomes less convenient to shell. The tenderness of the shell varies due to either premature harvest, variety, weather conditions, or transport/storage conditions.