Licha or Rambutan – Fruit in Central America
In Guatemala, the fruit known as lichas are actually rambutans — a native Asian fruit which are closely related to Lychees and Loquats. They are a sweetish/ sour fruit that has gained recent popularity in Guatemala and throughout Central America. They are best known by their bright pink exterior that is surrounded by soft spines.
They totally look as if they come from the orient.
Lichas are now sold throughout Central America at markets or on the streets. In only a decade they have become a popular fruit to grow in gardens and to sell in markets. They do not yet seem to be cultivated industrially in Central America, as they tend to be sold in the informal economy by local people whenever they have enough ripe ones to spare. At the Finca Tatin, we buy them from the indigenous Q’eqchi’ Maya in the jungle who grow them at their homes to sell on the rivers from cayucos.
Whenever lichas are offered for sale to the finca, we all — including the Maya girls in the kitchen — purchase bags full. They sell cheap — 25 centavos, 6 cents, a piece — and are often sold by local kids. Lichas seem to be a recently inducted fruit into the culinary lexicon of Central America, they seem to be the new thing in fruit in this region.
How to eat a Licha or Rambutan fruit
To get to the soft white pulp inside of a licha, you must first get through the spiny, pink peel. To do this you can either take a knife and make a small incision from where you can insert a fingernail and peel the outside off of the fruit or just tear it apart with your fingers or teeth. The peels look threatening — bearing spines and all — but they are actually easy to get through.
The fruit inside of a licha is translucent white and is wrapped around an almond shaped seed. To eat the fruit just bite it off from the seed, and suck out the juices. It is sometimes difficult to completely remove the fruit from the seed, as it is ultimately a little rubbery and difficult to really bite into.
The taste of a licha starts out sweet like a plum but ends sort of like a sour cherry. The fruit is highly acidic and can cause a face to pucker, though they are ultimately sweet, and, I must say, delicious. Though the fruit to waste ratio very much ebbs to the waste side, as for each licha, there is very little edible white fruit. It is my impression that they are best eaten by placing in the mouth and sucking or chewing the fruit off the seed and then spitting out the remains when the good parts seem to have been relinquished. `
They are a fun fruit to eat.
History of Licha or Rambutan cultivation
Rambutan are native to Southeast Asia, and are said to have first appeared in the Malay Archipelago. They see their largest cultivation in Thailand but have been spread throughout the tropical world.
Rambutans were first brought to Central America somewhat recently, and promptly received the misnomer “licha,” which is a title derived from the closely related Chinese fruit known as lychee. How this fruit became cultivated in Guatemala is up for questioning, but in 2001 a World Relief/ European Union team distributed Rambutan seeds to 100 farmers in Nicaragua to boost the local agricultural economy. Apparently, the people loved them, the seeds were passed on between farmers, and they somehow made their way to Guatemala, where they are delivered to me in the eastern jungles by Maya kids in cayucos.
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