Rambutan and lychee are both sweet, exotic fruits hailing from Southeast Asia. Similar in size and shape, both offer a burst of sweetness and acidity when you bite into them. With just a glance, though, you can see that these fruits are distinctly different!
Rambutan skin is darker in color and hairy while lychee looks like a bumpy pink strawberry—and that’s just the surface! Read on to see how their flavor and uses vary, and check out some delicious tropical recipes using these fruit.
What is rambutan?
Rambutan is a tropical fruit in the soapberry (Sapindaceae) family, native to Southeast Asia. The name "rambutan" comes from the Malay "rambut" meaning "hair". The red outer skin of rambutan is typically dark crimson and is covered in soft and colorful hairs.
Rambutan has a sweet, creamy flesh that ranges from white to yellow. This nutritious, low-calorie fruit is related to lychee, longan, and pulasan.
Where do rambutan grow?
The rambutan is native to Southeast Asia, primarily from Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Because it fairs well in a tropical climate, rambutan is now also grown in Thailand, Vietnam, and Central America. Rambutan can grow in the southernmost parts of the US, like southern California, Florida, Texas, and Hawaii.
What do rambutan taste like?
Rambutan is most commonly compared to grapes: sweet with a subtle sourness. The flesh of the fruit is soft and creamy and slightly sweeter than that of lychee.
Are rambutan healthy?
Yes, rambutan is a healthy fruit high in vitamins, nutrients, and fiber. It is often referred to as a “superfood” due to its high levels of antioxidants. Rambutan is high in vitamin C, vitamin A, folate, vitamin B9, manganese, copper, calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and iron. Rambutan is lower in calories and sugar content than lychee.
Do you eat rambutan raw?
Yes, rambutans are typically eaten raw. They can also be eaten cooked or candied. To eat raw rambutan, simply peel away the hairy outer layer and eat the flesh of the fruit, careful not to eat the pit.
What can I do with rambutan?
Rambutan is a delightfully fresh and creamy fruit with subtle sweetness and a pop of acidity. It works well in fruit salads, smoothies, ice cream, and even cooked dishes. Or dip it in our chocolate peanut butter fruit dip!
Here are some of the best recipes using rambutan:
- Dragon Fruit and Rambutan Chia Pudding (Savory Spin)
- Summer Rambutan Curry (Saveur)
- Rambutan Fruit Smoothie (The Spruce Eats)
- Tropical Rambutan and Key Lime Cheesecake (HEB)
What is lychee?
Lychee is another aromatic tropical fruit in the same soapberry family as rambutan. Indigenous to Southeast Asia, lychee is small and oval-shaped, with bumpy skin that is pinkish-red in color. Many liken it to a strawberry for that reason.
Inside the skin, the white flesh is firm yet juicy and contains a pit in the middle. Lychee trees thrive in tropical climates, where they grow as high as 100 feet. Lychee is most commonly eaten raw on its own or in smoothies, drinks, and salads.
Where do lychee grow?
Lychees are native to Southeast Asia and primarily grow in Southern China, Thailand, and Vietnam, as well as in India. More recently, lychee is being cultivated in Brazil, the Caribbean, Australia, California, and Florida.
What is lychee called in America?
The name "lychee" comes from the Chinese "lìzhī" (荔枝), meaning "gift for a joyful life." In English, lychee is also commonly written as litchi or lichi. Sometimes it is also referred to as “alligator strawberry” because of its bumpy, reddish-pink skin.
What does lychee taste like?
Lychee is a juicy tropical fruit with a sweet and slightly floral flavor that is often compared to pineapple, grapes, and strawberries. They are acidic and have a bit of tanginess as well. They are not as sweet as rambutan and are more tart.
What are the benefits of eating lychees?
Lychee is high in vitamins and minerals, such as iron, copper, manganese, phosphorus, and magnesium. The fruit is also rich in antioxidants like epicatechin, rutin, Vitamin C, and polyphenols. Lychee is lower in fiber and has more calories and sugar than rambutan.
Why can't you eat a lot of lychee?
While there are many health benefits when eating lychee in moderation, it should be noted that the skin and seeds of the lychee fruit contain toxins. If eaten unripe, the flesh of lychee fruit contains toxins as well. Lychee has also been known to cause allergic reactions.
Eating too much lychee, eating the seeds and skin, and eating unripe lychee could lead to fever, convulsions, and seizures. The risk of this is greater if you are malnourished and consuming large quantities of lychee (more than 10 at a time).
What part of lychee do you eat?
The seed and skin are mildly toxic, so you should only eat the flesh of the fruit. Peel away the skin and either slice the flash off the seed or eat around the pit. There's no need to wash lychee.
What can you do with lychees?
Here are some of the best recipes using lychee:
- Lychee Salsa (Food.com)
- Thai Banana-Lychee Dessert (The Spruce Eats)
- Lychee Lime Sorbet (Good Food)
- Lychee Panna Cotta (Yummy Addiction)
Summary: What is the difference between rambutan and lychee?
Rambutan and lychee are popular tropical fruits that grow primarily in Southeast Asia. Of the same family, both fruits are sweet and slightly acidic and are high in vitamins and antioxidants. There are some notable differences when comparing lychee vs rambutan:
- Appearance: While similar in size and shape, rambutans have hairy skin that ranges from yellow-orange to crimson red, while lychee skin is pinkish-red and bumpy
- Taste: Rambutans are creamier and sweeter than lychee, and are often likened to a sweet and slightly tart grape. Lychee is less sweet, crisper, more tart, and has more of a floral note.
- Texture: The flesh of rambutan is creamier while lychee flesh is crisper.
- Nutrition: Rambutans are lower in calories and sugar than lychees but otherwise are quite similar nutritionally.
Find relief from the summer heat with these refreshing fruit-based recipes!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q1: What is rambutan called in English?
A: Rambutan comes from the Malaysian word "rambut", meaning "hair". English speakers commonly use the word rambutan, although “hairy lychee” is another term used for this fruit.
Q2: Does rambutan taste like lychee?
A: While the fruits are from the same family and thus are similar, they do taste different. Rambutan has a sweet, fruity, slightly acidic, and mildly tart flavor profile that is sweeter and creamier than lychee. Lychee has a sweet, fruity taste with floral notes and more tartness. Lychee is less sweet and more crisp than rambutan.
Q3: Are rambutan and lychee the same?
A: No. While in the same family, these tropical fruits have notable differences, including their appearance, texture, and taste. Rambutan has a richer and sweeter flavor and creamier flesh than lychee. Lychee has bumpy skin, while a rambutan is hairy.