Ingredient focus – yuzu

Flavours of Japan: yuzu

by Rachel Walker 03 August 2019

Rachel Walker extols the virtues of yuzu – the tart, tangy Japanese citrus fruit that is more commonly being found on UK shores.

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Rachel is a cook, food writer (food editor of Reader's Digest) and all-round epicurean.

Rachel is a cook, food writer (food editor of Reader's Digest) and all-round epicurean.

Yuzus are renowned for their citric sharpness and heady, floral fragrance. The East Asian fruit resembles a small and stout, bumpy lemon, but are quite different to the usual fruits found in the citrus sections of British supermarkets.

First, their plump white pips are far larger than that of a lime or lemon, meaning it's hard to extract segments of flesh as you might with an orange or grapefruit. Also, when halved and juiced, a yuzu produces less liquid than British chef might expect from familiar citrus fruits. So if a recipe asks for the juice of one lemon, then a yuzu substitute might require the juice of two or more.

Despite this, yuzus are exceedingly fragrant fruits which are really exciting to cook with. As with all citrus fruits, the zest is the most intensely aromatic part, rich with essential oils. It can be grated using a regular microplane, or sliced using a paring knife to be dried or candied. Slivers of rind might also be used in a marmalade, and is also the traditional garnish in a savoury chawanmushi custard.

The juice is sharp but fragrant – closest to the blossom notes of the bergamot used in Earl Grey tea. As with a lime or lemon juice, yuzu juice has both savoury and sweet applications. It can might be used in a vinaigrette, to brighten a curry or lift a fillet of fish. Its sweet applications are endless – it could be added to a yuzu curd for breakfast, stirred into a tart for dessert or mixed into a plain cake batter to give afternoon teas an exotic edge. Often yuzu juice is mixed with honey and used in a variety of drinks from tea to cocktails too.

A history of yuzu

It's believed that yuzus are a hybrid of the sour mandarin, and a rare Western Chinese fruit called an ichang papeda. The fruit originated in central China and Tibet, but was introduced to Japan and Korea during the seventh and eighth century, where the yuzu first started to be cultivated.

Yuzus are a traditional ingredient in East Asian kitchens and the fruit is believed to have medicinal properties. They are often halved and added to hot baths, particularly over winter solstice when yuzu baths are a traditional ritual, believed to promote relaxation as well as bringing good health and possible riches.

Yuzu products

It's a rare delight to get your hands on fresh yuzu. They're not grown in Britain, though some specialist shops do import them – particularly over winter and early spring when they're in season.

Yuzu juice is an easier product to transport and is more and more often seen on supermarket shelves. Be sure to read the ingredients on the label though; yuzu juice varies in quality, and a 100% yuzu juice is always preferable to varieties which contain artificial sweeteners or acidity regulators.

Yuzu juice is often used in homemade ponzu recipes, and spicy pepper yuzu paste is another popular and versatile product – a delicious accompaniment to seafood and red meat.

Just as lemon flavours are used in British supermarkets, so East Asian shops often stock wide ranges of yuzu-flavoured products, from flavoured marinades to traditional sweets. Yuzu is also used to flavour teas and alcohol, with yuzu flavoured wines, sake or shochu increasingly appearing into East Asian-inspired cocktails.