Most fruits are already sweet but scientists have been tinkering with hybrids that are even sweeter and prettier than the originals. For instance, there’s the mandarinquat, an offspring of the mandarin and kumquat. Plumcots, as the name implies, are a cross between the plum and the apricot. And then there’s the purple-fleshed dragon fruit, which tastes like its white-fleshed cousin but is cultivated for its more vibrant hue.
A more recent addition to the fruit bowl is a new hybrid called Cuimi (脆蜜), which is a cross between two notoriously sweet tropical fruits: the longan and the lychee.
Longans, which translate as ‘dragon eyes’, and lychees are, in fact, close cousins that are grouped with rambutans in the Sapindoideae subfamily of the soapberry family.
To create the new hybrid, scientists at the South China Agricultural University School of Horticulture spent 15 years cross-pollinating lychee and longan trees. The resulting cultivar has been called Cuimi SZ52, a name that roughly translates as ‘crisp honey’.
Liu Chengming, who is in charge of the initiative, says that the Cuimi is still considered a variety of longan, although its flesh is more tender like a lychee (longans are chewier). In addition, the skin of Cuimi is crackled like the lychee, although still brown in colour like longan.
The fruit is said to weigh an average of 11.5 grammes. The ratio of flesh to seed is relatively high (which means you get more bang for your buck) and the flesh is juicy and sweet, like both of its parents.
There are other commercial considerations typical of hybrid offerings. Compared with its parents, Cuimi matures about 15–20 days later than its mother varietals. That could be useful in prolonging the relatively short season for longans and lychees and adding an option for supplying the market until the Mid-Autumn Festival, which sees revellers gifting fruit baskets alongside boxes of mooncakes.
The new varietal is also more resilient in cold weather, which means that the harvest promises better yields in periods of fluctuating weather.
“Our test base in Chaozhou experienced a low temperature of -3 to -4°C. While the branches of Shikip longan in the same area were severely frozen, Cuimi leaves were only slightly damaged, and the degree of freezing damage was fairly limited,” says Liu, the scientist heading the project.
Nevertheless, fruit fans had plenty of questions about the newcomer. “It looks so much like longan, I can’t tell which part of it is from the lychee,” one shopper queried on Sina Weibo.
“In my humble opinion, a longan is longan, and a lychee is lychee. Each is beautiful and wonderful in its own way, so why can’t they stay that way?” a more philosophical netizen wondered.
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