The longan is a brown skinned fruit that is said to be the “little brother” of the lychee. It is native to China and South East Asia and is a little larger than an olive. The longan has a musky, grape flavor and is sweeter than a lychee but not as juicy. The longan has a whitish, translucent flesh that encases a small black seed, and its skin is pale brown and brittle.
The longan or lungan is sometimes referred to as a dragon’s eye or eyeball in China and as mamoncillo chino in Cuba. It is the seed at the center of the fruit that gave it the “eyeball” name. The seed is jet black and shiny with a circular white spot at its base, giving it the appearance of an eyeball. In China, the longan is used more often in traditional medicine than as an edible fruit.
The longan thrives at higher altitudes and can endure more frost than the lychee. The longan tree was introduced to Florida in 1903 and has been grown in a few other locations, but it has never become widely popular. It has been known to grow easily in Hawaii, but again it is not as popular there as the lychee.
There are a few different types of longan. Hei ho shih hsia is a black-seeded longan and Chin ch'i ho shih hsia is brown-seeded. The flesh of these types of longan is crisper and sweeter than other varieties of the fruit.
Other variations of the fruit include the Wu Yuan, which is very small, sour and mostly used for canning. The Hua Kioh has very thin, nearly tasteless flesh and its quality is very poor. She pi’ is the largest fruit of the longan family, with rough skin and a large seed; the quality is low and some of the juice is between the rind and the flesh.
If kept at room temperature, the longan will remain fresh for several days. The longan can be frozen, and unlike the lychee, will not break down as quickly. Longans are usually eaten fresh, but you can also cook the fruit. They are also available canned in syrup.
The longan is also as a medicine. The flesh is regarded as an antidote for poison, while the dried flesh has been used a cure for insomnia. In Vietnam, the seed or eye of the fruit is pressed against a snakebite in order to absorb the poison.