Yuzu: The Prized Citrus of Japan

PHOTO COURTESY OF DANIELFOODDIARY.COM A yuzu farm in Kochi, Japan. 

PHOTO COURTESY OF DANIELFOODDIARY.COM

A yuzu farm in Kochi, Japan. 

It is Touji (the first day of winter) in Kochi, a prefecture on the small island of Shikoku located in southern Japan. Among Kochi’s mountains in the humid, subtropical climate reside short, thorny trees yielding bright golden-yellow orbs that brighten the valleys. The powerful scent of citrus from the yuzu fruit carries over the rural villages of the Kochi farmers, who know it is time for harvest.

Two Japanese farmers selling their produce (including yuzu) at a farmer's market.

Two Japanese farmers selling their produce (including yuzu) at a farmer's market.

Like most citrus fruit, the yuzu first originated in the rocky foothills of central China. It was then introduced into Korea and Japan during the Tang Dynasty, where it became regularly cultivated. Today, the yuzu is primarily propagated in Japan where it is the nation’s favorite citrus. The Japanese revere the yuzu for its medicinal properties as well as its unique and exotic flavor.

The Japanese revere the yuzu for its medicinal properties as well as its unique and exotic flavor.”
Ponzu, a popular citrus sauce in Japanese cuisine. 

Ponzu, a popular citrus sauce in Japanese cuisine. 

The yuzu has found its way into washoku (traditional Japanese cuisine) and its juice is used for purposes similar to lemon juice in western cultures. Dried, powdered yuzu is tangy and sweet and is featured in different desserts. It is also an integral ingredient to the recipe of ponzu, a popular citrus Japanese sauce. 

Yuzu is often mixed with honey to create yuzuhachimitsu syrup, which is used in tea and cocktails such as the Yuzu Sour. Its one-of-a-kind flavor also makes it the ideal base of some famous alcoholic beverages such as Gekkeikan Yuzu Nigori Sake (nigori sake blended with yuzu liqueur) and Muromachi Shuzo Yuzu Citrus Wine (junmai sake blended with yuzu juice).

Ripe yuzu hands from a tree

Even when ripe, the yuzu is very seedy and yields little juice. It is rarely eaten raw but tastes like a combination of mandarin, lemon and grapefruit. The yuzu is less tart than the lemon which makes it’s juice highly coveted and commands a high price; however, it’s the rind that possesses the true soul of the yuzu.  The fragrant and distinct aroma holds a pungent, citrusy, spicy aroma and is the most prized and widely used part of this exotic fruit. Journalist for the Japan Times Mikiko Itoh writes, “The queen of bitter-sour Japanese citrus is yuzu….the bitter-citrus flavor of the peel is incredibly addictive.”

The queen of bitter-sour Japanese citrus is yuzu . . . the bitter-citrus flavor of the peel is incredibly addictive.”
Basket of yuzu fruit

Basket of yuzu fruit

The yuzu has been a staple in Japan for well over 1,200 years, but has just crept into western cuisines less than 20 years ago when the fruit became more accessible and affordable. A 2003 New York Times article by David Karp describes the yuzu as  “a fruit of mysterious provenance,” and ignited interest in some high-end restaurants across the United States, who are beginning to incorporate yuzu in their cocktails as well as savory dishes and desserts.

a fruit of mysterious provenance,”

“[Yuzu] has a very distinct flavor and aroma that you just can’t get from lemon and limes,” said Sharon Nahm, chef at San Francisco’s E&O Asian Kitchen in an interview with Food Republic. “It’s got great acidity and elements of other citrus fruits like grapefruit and tangerine...a flavor you don’t get.”

For Alice and the Magician, the exotic aroma of yuzu plays a critical role in Citrus Blossom Harvest.  By adding sharp green notes, warm yellow citrus and fragrant white blossoms, yuzu gives balance and depth to the big, bold flavor of wild orange and grapefruit.


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