Vegetation Profile: Longan


The Longan is a tropical tree native to southern China. The tree is very sensitive to frost. It is also found in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. It is also called guiyuan (桂圆) in Chinese, lengkeng in Indonesia, mata kucing in Malaysia, and quả nhãn in Vietnamese. The longan (“dragon eyes”) is so named because of the fruit’s resemblance to an eyeball when it is shelled (the black seed shows through the translucent flesh like a pupil/iris).

The fruit is edible, and is often used in East Asian soups, snacks, desserts, and sweet-and-sour foods. They are round with a thin, brown-coloured inedible shell. The flesh of the fruit, which surrounds a big, black seed, is translucent white, soft, and juicy.

When I first arrived in Saigon, my grandpa’s younger brother Ong Ti stopped by my office to say hello. He arrived with a smile and huge bag of nhãn as a welcome gift. The nhãn were very dusty upon arrival, but I washed them thoroughly in water, removed them from their stems, and refrigerated them uncovered in bowls. For the following three weeks, The Astronomer and I were able to snack on nhãn to our hearts’ content. After years of eating canned nhãn coated in heavy syrup, it was a welcomed treat to finally taste the real thing.

4 Responses to “Vegetation Profile: Longan”

  1. 1 angel August 31, 2007 at 6:39 am

    one of my favorite fruits in the entire world. wish that i could have better access to the fresh variety. but canned is okay when i am craving them.

  2. 2 Melanie September 2, 2007 at 9:10 pm

    can you describe what they taste like?

  3. 3 Molly September 2, 2007 at 10:45 pm

    I’m drooling now!! I used to work with a lot of Chinese and Vietnamese people, and one of the things they introduced me to was longans. Luckily we have a fairly large population of both, and lots and lots of wonderful grocery stores where you can buy them frozen. In the summer I don’t even let them thaw out, I just eat them frozen and oh man, so good. I think I’ll have to go get some this week.

  1. 1 Chè Nhãn « gas•tron•o•my Trackback on January 30, 2008 at 3:34 pm

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