Lychee jelly is a jiggly jelly dessert made from the tropical lychee fruit. Like coconut jelly and grass jelly, it’s often used as a topping for boba or bubble tea. Lychee jelly can also be eaten as a packaged single-serve confection, used to top ice cream, or served as a standalone dessert.
What Is Lychee Jelly Made Of?
Lychee jelly is made with sugar, a thickening agent such as nata de coco pulp, and lychee fruit, juice, or artificial flavoring. Commercial products may also contain ingredients like preservatives, stabilizers, and coloring agents. Lychee jelly may or may not include pieces of lychee fruit.
While lychee jelly served at bubble tea shops is typically clear and dairy-free, some recipes for homemade versions include milk, resulting in a creamier, opaque jelly.
What Does Lychee Jelly Taste Like?
Lychee jelly is sweet and slightly tart, with the floral, tropical flavor notes of the lychee fruit. The texture is solid yet soft, jiggly, and bouncy. It’s often thicker than jellies made with gelatin.
How Is Lychee Jelly Used?
Lychee jelly is often shaped or cut into balls or blocks and used as a topping for bubble tea or ice cream, but it’s also eaten and served in other contexts. Lychee jelly is often found packaged in small, single-serve plastic cups as a sweet treat for kids.
“I grew up eating lychee jelly,” says Kiki Aranita, chef-owner at Poi Dog in Philadelphia, of her childhood in Hawaii and Hong Kong. “I loved squeezing the little cups to plop the jellies into my mouth, then drink the residual sugary juice afterward.” Aranita also remembers lychee jelly as a staple of the chuan he, or tray of togetherness, served at family celebrations around Lunar New Year along with nuts, seeds, chocolates, and other candies with red or gold packaging.
Is Lychee Jelly Healthier Than Boba?
It’s worth considering when you place your bubble tea order: which option is healthier, boba or fruit jelly?
Boba, also known as tapioca pearls, are made from cassava, a starchy root vegetable—just like the little balls in tapioca pudding. Cassava powder is combined with hot water to form a dough, which is then portioned into balls. The tapioca pearls are cooked in boiling water and typically soaked in a sweetener, like sugar syrup or honey, before they’re added to your bubble tea.
Lychee jelly, on the other hand, is a sweet dessert jelly with lychee juice or flavoring added. Before cooking, tapioca pearls typically contain significantly less sugar than lychee jelly.
Nutrition information varies based on brand and how the pearls are prepared, but here’s a comparison of lychee jelly and tapioca pearls sold by bubble tea supplier Bossen: A 100-gram serving of their prepared lychee jelly contains 128 calories, 42 grams of carbohydrate, and 30 grams of sugar.Meanwhile, a 30-gram serving of uncooked tapioca pearls from Bossen contains 72 calories, 18 grams of carbohydrate, and zero grams of sugar.
While we can assume that some added sugar from the soaking process will be absorbed into the finished boba, based on nutrition facts alone, boba seems to be significantly lower in sugar and calories than lychee jelly. If you’re looking to enjoy bubble tea without quite as much sugar, opting for boba may be the healthier option in that respect.
Is There Gelatin in Lychee Jelly?
Some recipes for making lychee jelly at home use gelatin to achieve that signature jiggly texture. However, gelatin is not suitable for vegans or vegetarians because it’s made from animal products.
Luckily, many commercial brands used as condiments in bubble tea shops and ice cream shops use vegan ingredients to set their lychee jelly. Some brands of lychee jelly use nata de coco, or coconut gel, as the setting agent in their product to create a thicker texture. Nata de coco is made from fermenting coconut water, so it’s a good option for vegans and vegetarians; it’s also sometimes served as a bubble tea topping on its own.
Another option for making your own lychee jelly at home without animal products is agar agar. This vegan ingredient is made from algae and used to create a jelly-like texture.