Interestingly, many people often mistake rambutan vs lychee and vice versa! From afar, yes, these two red, round fruits look similar. They both also grow in clusters. If you have never tried both rambutan and lychee or if you have only tried one of them – then it might be easy to imagine that the two fruits are the same. In reality, these two fruits are wonderful and have their own distinctive features – we will explore them in this post!
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Rambutan vs lychee: the fruit
The two fruits share some similarities. Let’s start with the obvious one: both rambutan fruit and lychee are red in color once fully ripe. Otherwise, they are green. The meat inside is mostly white and both fruits contain a solid seed in the center under rambutan/lychee meat.
Now, let’s discuss how they differ from one another. While both fruits are covered by red skin, rambutan’s is covered by red/green hair while Lychee has no hair. So rambutan is hairy (therefore the name “rambutan”, “rambut” means hair in Malay language) and lychee is hairless. Despite being hairless, many species of lychees have miniature “spikes” on the skin. Not to be worried about, these will not harm you when you peel the lychee skin.
Next, rambutan’s skin is thicker than lychee’s skin. While you can peel rambutan open with your hand, it is much easier to peel rambutan with the help of a knife while lychees are very easy to eat using your hand.
Rambutan’s seeds are also different from lychee seeds. Lychee seeds are black/dark brown in color, sphere/oval in shape and they do not really stick to lychee meat much. On another hand, Rambutan’s seeds are white/light brown in color and they do tend to stick to rambutan meat a lot more than Lychee seeds do.
Rambutan fruits have slightly thicker skin than lychee’s, however they can easily be sliced open using a knife.
The tree: Rambutan vs lychee
Rambutan and lychee trees can grow quite tall given sufficient space and nutrition. Both rambutan and lychee trees bear fruits in many clusters, making them visually appealing once all fruits turn red. From far away however, it may be hard to differentiate both trees from untrained eyes.
Rambutan vs lychee: the taste
In terms of the similarity in taste… if we have to say, both fruits are delicious and we love them both! Once fully ripe, both rambutan and lychee have sweet and a bit of sourness as their primary taste, this makes both fruits very refreshing to eat.
However, there are a number of differences between rambutan and lychee fruit, some may be a lot more noticeable than others
- Taste balance between sweetness and sourness. From our experience, Rambutans are sweet with a more refreshing sourness. On the other hand, lychees are sweet with some floral notes to them
- Texture-wise, Rambutan meat has a more firm texture while Lychees are much softer and juicier!
- Lychee has a more distinct fragrance – which may explain why lychees tend to get incorporated into beverages more than rambutan. Have you ever tried lychee-infused tea, gin & tonic or mojito?
One last point when it comes to rambutan vs lychee is related to lychee taste. This may only apply to a smaller sample, but some lychees that we have tried in Thailand have a trace of acidulous taste. Lychees from China on the other hand tend to be sweeter and less/not sour.
Lychee mojito. Photo credit: Chinh Le Duc, Unsplash
How about seasonality and geographical preference?
In the previous article, we covered the seasonality of Thai fruits (including a seasonal chart). In general, rambutan is a tropical fruit and rambutan fruits are mostly available during summer and rainy seasons.
According to the Agricultural Research Development Agency, Lychee would grow well in 20-30 Celsius temperature and 10-20 Celsius is the ideal temperature for lychee trees to start flowering. For this very reason, lychees are more commonly found in spring (or from the end of March in Thailand).
In Thailand, farmers mostly grow lychees in Northern and Central Thailand, whereas rambutan in Eastern and Southern Thailand.
Speaking from personal experience, Thai rambutans are among the best that we have tried. However, when it comes to lychees, we have to say that those from China are far more delicious than the Thai ones (a conclusion after spending 10 years eating Chinese lychees in China and Hong Kong).
So, how different are rambutans from lychees?
Some fruits are simply visually similar (another example is durian vs jackfruit). Behind their somewhat similar look, rambutans and lychees have both striking and subtle differences. Both are sweet but rambutans are sourer and lychees have more floral notes and fragrances to them. Texture-wise, rambutans are drier whereas lychees are juicier.
The two fruits have a slightly different climate preference, hence they do not overlap much in terms of seasonality. We can enjoy these two fruits at different times of the year, and you don’t need to think too much to choose one over the other!
Now that you know the similarities and differences of rambutan vs lychee, how about jackfruit vs durian?
Learn more about Thailand via our other posts!