What Exactly Is Yuzu? Learn About This Citrus Fruit

by Flora Baker

What Exactly Is Yuzu? Learn About This Citrus Fruit

Yuzu with leaves.

You might have seen yuzu flavoring in your favorite Japanese snacks – but most people draw a blank when asked to define what yuzu actually is! 

Yuzu is a citrus fruit that originated in central China and spread further to East Asia. It was introduced to Japan via the Korean Peninsula during the Tang Dynasty and quickly became a medicinal fruit and a culinary one (and was even used for hot bathing, too!). It has since become a staple in Japanese cuisine. 

Yuzu is now one of the most popular citrus fruits in Japan, where the majority of the world’s yuzu is cultivated. It grows particularly well in cold, mountainous areas – like in Kochi prefecture, which has plenty of forested lands that are perfect for cultivating yuzu. 

What is Yuzu?

A typical question when faced with Japanese yuzu: “Is it a type of lemon?” 

One of the first things people get wrong about yuzu is mistaking it for the humble lemon. To be fair, Japanese yuzu does look somewhat similar – it has a bright yellow color when ripe, and size-wise it’s relatively close. The yuzu fruit is also commonly thought of as a lime – again, for similar reasons. Both these fruits masquerade as yuzu because they’re all used for their tart juice and aromatic zest too. 

Then there’s the comparison between fresh yuzu fruit and citron. The citron is, again, a type of Japanese citrus fruit; large and fragrant with a bumpy yellow surface, it contains very little pulp and instead has a very thick rind, which explains why citron is usually used for its zest and peel. 

To really get to grips with yuzu, we need to talk about yuzu flavor instead of appearance. Let’s get tasting! 

What Does Yuzu Taste Like? 

The first thing we can definitively say is that yuzu has a memorable and distinctive flavor. There’s a clear sharpness and acidity, along with a herbal blossoming that tastes fresh and clean. 

 One yuzu citrus fruit.

Aside from that distinction, you’ll hear a wealth of different ways to describe yuzu flavor! Some say it’s like a cross between a lime, lemon and grapefruit; others say it’s similar to a mandarin orange but more tart and sour. We think there’s a touch of sweetened lime with a hint of kumquat too. 

If you smell yuzu, it has both sweet and bitter notes that are subtle and delicate enough to remind people of meringue. 

Different Ways To Use Yuzu

The most common ways to use yuzu are in juice form, the zest and grated peel of the rind, and the yuzu’s leaves. It’s not typical to drink yuzu juice (also known as yuzusu), as like its lemony neighbor, yuzu juice is extremely tart on its own! Yuzu leaves are often used to flavor teas and sauces, and yo’ll

Yuzu Sauces and Condiments

Yuzu is a key ingredient in many Japanese sauces and condiments. You’ll see it as a dipping sauce for dumplings, a glaze for salmon, added to mayonnaise and marinades. Our particular favorites include:

  • Yuzukosho: Japanese citrus chili paste that tastes spicy and salty. You can combine yuzu kosho with soy sauce to make a rich dipping sauce that’s great with canapes and Japanese skewers, or even mixed into ramen!
  • Yuzu Ponzu: a yuzu-flavored ponzu sauce, made by mixing together yuzu juice, soy sauce and honey. The resulting sauce has a gorgeous mix of sweet and salt, and is versatile enough to be added into everything from tempura, hot pot, stir fries and curries, as well as a standalone dressing for salads.
  • Yuzu vinegar: made by adding some rice wine vinegar to Yuzu juice. Using it in place of vinegar as a flavoring for rice is also popular.

Yuzu Sweets and Desserts 

Yuzu fruit really comes into its own when it meets dessert. Whether used in cakes, sweets, jellies, pies, recipes with a yuzu-inspired citrus twist are virtually endless. A few drops added to sweet curd, custard, panna cotta, or meringue is enough to imbue each dish with a subtle yuzu flavor

  • Dried and candied yuzu peel can be eaten on its own as a snack
  • Yuzu jams and marmalades are extremely popular
  • Yuzu is used as a flavoring for ice cream, cookies, candies, and even potato chips.

Interested in trying some yuzu-infused snacks? Subscribe to our Japanese snack box subscription that delivers 20+ authentic Japanese snacks to your door every month. 

    Yuzu Drinks 

    The tart freshness of yuzu juice lends itself extremely well to drinks. It’s typical to have a bottle of yuzu juice in the house and add it to sparkling water for a refreshing drink – though yuzu can also be incorporated into the following drinks too:

    • Yuzu lemonade: a sweet and citrusy twist to typical lemonade 
    • Tea: yuzu and ginger is a perfect combination in tea form. You can get pre-packaged herbal tea sachets at our Bokksu Japanese snack boutique
    • Cocktails: Yuzu juice pairs wonderfully with gin, and you can make a delicious gin cocktail with club soda and orange bitters with a sprig of mint as a garnish. Alternatively, try a yuzu sour, made with honey 
    • There’s even a yuzu liqueur! This much-loved Japanese citrus alcohol is usually known as yuzu sake or yuzushu, and made by adding yuzu juice and peel to a base of either shochu or sake

    How to Store Yuzu

    If you’re cooking with a whole fresh yuzu fruit, it will last for about a week at room temperature or for a few weeks in the fridge. You can store both the yuzu skin and flesh in the freezer where it will last for about a month before losing its palatability. You can also freeze the juice and store this for around six months. 

    For bottled yuzu juice, it’s recommended to use it all within four weeks to get the best taste. Of course, if you only use a few drops at a time, it’s probably advisable to freeze it! 

    You can also purchase leaves from the yuzu plant to use as an aromatic. The leaves will last around five days when fresh and kept in a plastic bag inside the fridge. Yuzu leaves can be dried too, or frozen for much longer. 

    Where to Find Yuzu

     Yuzu is pretty much only grown in Japan, and processed domestically there too. As a result, Japan’s hold on yuzu’s supply and demand makes it a rather expensive fruit in the rest of the world. It can fetch between $8 to $20 a pound wholesale, but those prices double when it’s sold at retail value .

    Instead of buying the fruit whole, it’s more common to find bottled yuzu juice on the shelves of your local Asian supermarket or grocery store. Make sure to check that you’re actually buying 100% pure yuzu juice rather than 'yuzu citrus seasoning', which contains a far lower percentage of the juice.

    Of course, you may not want to cook with yuzu juice itself, but simply enjoy the unique and fresh flavor via some of the many snacks it features in. Why not try some delicious Yuzu monaka cookies, which use a tropical-tasting white bean and yuzu paste sandwiched between two mochi wafers, or brew yourself a cup of fragrant yuzu hojicha tea? 

    Author Bio

    Flora Baker is a writer, blogger and author based in London, UK. She runs the award-winning travel website Flora The Explorer and has written for Coastal Living, Telegraph, and National Geographic Traveler.