© Denzil Green
Longan is a fruit closely related to lychees and rambutans. It has a fuller flavour than lychee, though it is less aromatic and less sweet.
The Longan tree grows 30 to 40 feet (9 to 12 metres) tall, with a canopy that spreads out to 45 feet (14 metres.) It is an evergreen tree with rough bark and glossy green leaves that are 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) long and 1 1/2 to 2 inches (3 1/2 to 5 cm) wide. The tree can survive brief temperature drops down into the range of 30 to 25 F (-1 to -4 C.)
The seeds are only good for growing for about 2 to 3 weeks after being removed from the fruit. A tree grown from seed will need 5 to 10 years to produce fruit; a tree grown by air-layering will produce in 2 to 3 years.
The tree blossoms with pale yellow flowers. It needs about 3 months of cool weather to fully bloom. Trees tend to bear fruit every other year, though some trees are less reliable than even that. But when they do fruit, it is often in abundance. Cultivars have been developed that are more predictable.
In the northern hemisphere, the fruit are ready for harvest in July and August; in the southern hemisphere, in January and February. They grow as clusters of very small fruit, only about 1 inch (2 1/2 cm) wide. They are round to oval, with dull beige-brown or golden-brown skin that is thin, leathery, and pebbled-looking. The fruit won’t ripen any further once picked.
Inside, there is translucent white flesh, and at the centre of that, a single glossy dark black seed with a single white spot on it (thus some of the names referring to “eye.”)
Longan is usually eaten out of hand.
The fruit are very easy to peel: when they’re ripe, all you have to do is squeeze them at the end where the stalk was, and they should pop open.
They are often sold canned in syrup.
For drying, the whole fruits are first heated to cause the flesh inside to shrink somewhat, then they are seeded, then slow-dried. When dried, they are black and leathery.
Varieties of Longan include Biew Kiew, Ch’i chin tsao ho, Chin ch’ i ho shih hsia, Chom Poo Nuch, E-Haw, Fukien Lungan, Haew, Hei ho shih hsia, Homestead No.1, Hua Kioh, Kao Yuan, Kohala (Hawaii), Lungan Late, She p’ i, Tsao ho, and Wu Yuan (sour.) One variety, Chin ch’ i ho shih hsia, has brown seeds.
Economically, Longan is the most important fruit exported from Thailand.
Store ripe fruit at room temperature for 2 to 3 days, or in a plastic bag in the fridge for 5 to 7 days.
Longan is native to south-east Asia, probably either in southern China or in the land between Burma (aka Myanmar) and India. It was introduced into north Queensland, Australia by Chinese immigrants. It was introduced into Florida in 1903 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA.)
Longan in English is a transliteration of “Dragon Eye” in Chinese.
Confusingly referred to as “Mamoncillo chino” in Cuba, which is the Spanish name used elsewhere in the world for Lychee Fruit.