Yuzu: Japan’s Beloved Citrus Treasure

by Nana Young

Discovering Yuzu:

Yuzu citrus fruit

Originally from East Asia, particularly China and Tibet, the yuzu fruit made its way to Japan many years ago via the Korean Peninsula during the Nara Period. It quickly became a staple in the country's culinary and cultural practices. Today, yuzu is one of Japan's most popular citrus fruits, with the country producing the majority of the world's yuzu.

What is Yuzu Fruit?

Capybara in Japanese hot both with yellow yuzu fruit.

Scientifically known as Citrus junos, yuzu is a member of the Rutaceae family, renowned for its diverse citrus species. The yuzu tree features evergreen foliage and fragrant white blossoms, producing fruit that resembles a small grapefruit or tangerine with a distinctive bumpy peel. When ripe, yuzu fruits are bright yellow and highly aromatic, delivering citrusy notes with floral undertones that set them apart from other citrus fruits. Inside, yuzu contains several large seeds surrounded by juicy pulp.

Yuzu's flavor profile, which blends notes of lemon, sweet orange, and grapefruit, makes it a versatile ingredient in Japanese cuisine. Its aroma and medicinal properties also play a significant role in Japanese culture, often associated with the winter season and used in hot baths. Its aroma and medicinal properties also play a significant role in Japanese culture, often associated with the winter season and used in hot baths.

The Cultivation of Yuzu in Japan

fruits of Yuzu on the branch

Unlike other citrus fruits that thrive in warm coastal areas, yuzu grows best in colder, mountainous regions, making it the most cold-resistant citrus. To speed up production, grafting techniques are used due to the long maturation period of natural trees. Because yuzu has an unpredictable yield, pruning and harvesting are crucial. Additionally, producers use fertilizers without pesticides to maintain a stable and healthy crop.

Yuzu fruits are typically harvested from late autumn to early winter when they reach optimal ripeness, while green yuzu from open fields is available from late July to early September. Japan produces over 27,000 tons of yuzu annually, with more than 80% grown in the Shikoku Region. Kochi Prefecture, the yuzu capital of Japan, accounts for 50% of the country's production. The warm, humid climate and well-drained soils of Kochi provide ideal conditions for yuzu orchards.

Yuzu vs. Lemon: Understanding the Differences

Japanese yuzu fruits placed on a wood table

Yuzu and lemon are both yellow citrus fruits, often confused due to their appearance. However, they offer distinct tastes, aromas, and culinary uses. Yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit, has a complex flavor profile that combines the sourness of lemon with subtle notes of mandarin orange and grapefruit. Unlike tangerines or other citrus fruits eaten fresh, yuzu is used to enhance the flavor and fragrance of Japanese cuisine. Its intensely fragrant aroma is floral and somewhat pine-like. In contrast, lemon is known for its bright, zesty flavor and sharp acidity, with a fresh, clean aroma characterized by a high concentration of citric acid.

wooden box of fresh lemons with leaves on a wooden background, top view

In terms of health benefits, both yuzu and lemon are low in sugar and calories, and rich in vitamin C and antioxidants. Yuzu contains three times more vitamin C than lemons and has higher levels of certain flavonoids with anti-inflammatory properties. Lemons, on the other hand, offer a more balanced profile with fiber, potassium, and citric acid.

Exploring Yuzu Juice and Its Uses

Warm Yuzu tea

Yuzu juice is prized in Japanese cuisine and beyond for its tangy flavor and intense aroma. The extraction process is meticulous, starting with selecting ripe yuzu fruits. They are then pressed by hand or machine, with machines calibrated to maximize juice extraction while minimizing bitter elements. After pressing, the juice is filtered to remove pulp and seeds, resulting in a clear, tangy liquid.

Yuzu juice is a versatile culinary ingredient, often used to boost the flavor of sauces and marinades and as an excellent addition to beverages and cocktails. Here are some ways to enhance beverages using yuzu juice:

  • Infused Waters: Adding a few drops of yuzu juice can turn ordinary water into a refreshing drink, making it a favored option for a healthy and hydrating drink.

  • Non-Alcohol Drinks: Yuzu juice is frequently mixed with sparkling water, honey, and ice to craft a revitalizing yuzu soda. Additionally, it's a delightful addition to teas, whether hot or iced, especially when paired with ginger.

  • Cocktails: Yuzu juice is highly favored in mixology, bringing a unique twist to traditional cocktails like the yuzu martini or yuzu sour. Another option is to make yuzushu, or yuzu sake, by combining yuzu juice and peel with a base of shochu or sake.

What is Yuzu Sauce?

Close up shot of salmon roe and Sashimi with yuzu sauce

Yuzu sauce is made by blending yuzu juice with various ingredients to achieve a well-balanced and flavorful condiment. In Japanese homes, particularly in Kochi, pure yuzu juice often substitutes for vinegar or lemon/lime juice in recipes. A popular type of yuzu sauce is yuzu ponzu, created by mixing yuzu sauce with soy sauce, mirin (Japanese rice wine), and dashi (Japanese broth). This versatile condiment adds vibrancy and taste to many dishes. Here are some ways to use yuzu sauce:

  • Salad Dressing: Whisk yuzu sauce with sesame oil, olive oil, and a hint of honey to create a lively salad dressing.

  • Sauce for Grilled Dishes: Drizzle it over grilled dishes just before serving to add a burst of citrusy flavor.

Yuzu in Japanese Traditions

hot spa image: yuzu fruits for yuzu bath in wooden bath bucket and wooden Japanese sandals

Toji, the winter solstice, signifies the year's shortest day and longest night in Japan, a time when people combat the winter chill and prepare for the new year. A deeply-rooted tradition during toji is the yuzu bath, known as yuzuyu, which dates back to the Edo period. Adding yuzu to the bathwater is believed to ward colds, leading families to gather and immerse themselves in hot water with whole yuzu fruit or peel. The essential oil from the fruit is believed to enhance circulation, soothe skin, and promote relaxation.

Yuzu’s Popularity in Japanese Cuisine

Grilled chicken fillet skewers, served with Yuzu pepper..

Yuzu isn't typically eaten straight; instead, its juice and zest are used to add sourness and enhance Japanese cuisine. For example, yuzu ramen features a broth infused with yuzu zest and juice, while Kochi's inaka-sushi substitutes yuzu vinegar in place of traditional rice vinegar to season the rice. Beyond food, yuzu is also a key ingredient in many alcoholic drinks. The yuzu sour cocktail beautifully combines yuzu's bright, tangy flavor with the classic elements of a sour drink. Similarly, yuzusu blends yuzu juice with sake or shochu, creating a delightful fusion of flavors.

Yuzu vs. Yuja: Comparing East Asian Citruses

Yuja Tea served with Honey with Hot Water in Winter.

While "yuja" is simply the Korean name for yuzu, the fruit is celebrated differently in Japanese and Korean cultures. In Japan, yuzu is celebrated for its culinary versatility, health benefits, and its significant role in seasonal rituals such as yuzu baths during toji (winter solstice) and oshogatsu (the first three days of the new year). In contrast, in Korea, yuja is revered for its medicinal properties and comforting presence in beverages like yuja-cha (yuja tea) and yuja hwachae, a traditional fruit punch enjoyed on September 9th of the lunar calendar.

Health Benefits of Yuzu Fruit

Yuzu fruit, cut yuzu peel, and peeled yuzu contents

Yuzu is a nutrient-dense citrus fruit known for its numerous health benefits, largely attributed to its high vitamin C content, antioxidants, fiber, and other bioactive compounds. Scientific studies indicate that yuzu can boost the immune system, improve heart health, aid digestion, reduce inflammation, and potentially offer anti-cancer benefits. Additionally, its citric acid, responsible for the fruit's intense sour flavor, is believed to help reduce fatigue and increase appetite.

Innovative Yuzu Products in Japan

Bathing supplies with citrons

In Japan, yuzu-inspired products have become popular, ranging from culinary creations to beauty products. Yuzu Kosho, a condiment made from yuzu zest, chili peppers, and salt, is widely enjoyed in its convenient ready-to-use paste form. Yuzu also flavors various candies and confections, including traditional mochi filled with yuzu paste and artisan chocolates infused with yuzu. Unique yuzu-flavored products available online include Bokksu Boutique’s Handmade Yuzu Sake Candy, a sake-flavored candy with yuzu bits (containing 0.1% alcohol), and Yuzu Cream Baumkuchen Mini Cake, a bite-sized tree ring cake filled with yuzu jam.

In recent years, yuzu has become a star ingredient in the beauty and skincare industry due to its rich nutrient profile and skin benefits. Yuzu is exceptionally high in vitamin C, which helps brighten the skin, reduce the appearance of dark spots, and protect against environmental

Yuzu in the Global Culinary Scene

A very delicious Yuzu cheesecake with Yuzu syrup

Yuzu's unique flavor and aromatic zest have caught the attention of chefs and food enthusiasts worldwide, leading to its creative use in cuisines beyond Japan. In recent years, chefs in Paris and New York have incorporated yuzu into pasta dishes, sautés, and desserts to take advantage of its distinctive fragrance. The rise in yuzu's popularity overseas can be credited to Spanish chef Ferran Adrià, the renowned head chef of the Michelin three-star restaurant El Bulli in northern Spain. After discovering yuzu during a visit to Japan in 2002, Adrià championed the fruit, creating dishes like a delicate yuzu foam used as a topping for seafood and salads. Additionally, Catalan chef Carme Ruscalleda, owner of Sant Pau restaurant, features yuzu in her dessert creations, showcasing the fruit's bright and tangy flavors and adding a refreshing twist to traditional Catalan sweets.

How to Use Yuzu at Home

Incorporating everyday cooking with yuzu can add a delightful citrusy flavor that elevates the overall taste and freshness. Here are some practical suggestions to fully enjoy yuzu’s distinct flavor:

  • Garnish: Yuzu zest serves as a versatile garnish or flavoring agent for salads, grilled vegetables, pasta, or seafood. Just grate the yuzu peel onto your dish to add a burst of citrus freshness without the tartness of the juice.

  • Marinade: Yuzu juice, when extracted, makes a flavorful marinade for meats and seafood. Mix yuzu juice with soy sauce, honey, and grated ginger to create a zesty marinade that enhances the flavor of your dishes.

  • Sauce: It can be utilized as a dipping sauce for sushi or sashimi, or as flavoring sauces for meats, vegetables, or noodle dishes.

Due to strict regulations on importing fresh citrus from Asia, sourcing fresh yuzu outside Japan can be challenging. However, don't fret—here are some suggestions on where to purchase yuzu or its derivatives beyond Japan:

  • Farmers' Markets: In regions such as California, where a limited amount of yuzu is grown annually, you may find fresh yuzu at select farmers' markets during the fall or winter seasons.

  • Asian Grocery Stores: Visit Asian markets or grocery stores with dedicated Asian food sections to buy yuzu-flavored products like ponzu sauce and other yuzu condiments.

  • Online Retailers: Numerous online retailers focus on Japanese and Asian ingredients, providing an extensive array of yuzu products. Websites such as Amazon, Whole Foods, and Bokksu Market frequently feature yuzu-flavored products.

Seasonal and Festival Uses of Yuzu

White radish and carrot pickles topped with salmon roe in hollowed out yuzu citron. Japanese new year dish.

Yuzu takes center stage in Japan's New Year celebrations, bringing in the essence of the new year with its fragrance. A special dish enjoyed during this time is yuzugama, where a yuzu fruit serves as a bowl for roasting or grilling food, often served during the new year. Yuzugama infuses dishes with the aromatic essence of yuzu, adding its citrusy fragrance and flavor. Additionally, yuzu peel serves as a decorative and aromatic garnish for ozoni, the traditional Japanese New Year soup.

Furthermore, the Yuzu Hajimaru Festival is an annual event held in autumn at Umaji, Kochi, located on the island of Shikoku. This festival celebrates the start of the yuzu harvest season and the beginning of winter's culinary delights. Visitors can savor a range of yuzu dishes, including the renowned Gokkun Umajimura, a delicious drink made with yuzu juice, honey, and water. Additionally, attendees can enjoy complimentary access to the yuzu bath at Umaji Hot Spring and Yanase no Yu Hot Spring.

Preserving Yuzu: Techniques and Tips

Sliced Yuzu (Japanese citron)for making jam or Yuzu tea

For long-term yuzu storage, the key lies in selecting fresh, top-quality fruits. Fresh yuzu can last about a week at room temperature or a few weeks in the fridge if you plan to use it within a few weeks. Store whole, uncut yuzu fruits in the refrigerator's crisp drawer to keep them fresh. Avoid storing yuzu near ethylene-producing fruits like apples and bananas, and keep them in a cool, dark place away from heat and moisture to prevent early ripening.

Traditional Japanese methods can prolong yuzu's shelf life for longer storage. One technique is drying yuzu, an age-old method that intensifies the fruit's flavor. After removing the seeds, thinly slice the fruit and lay it in a single layer on a drying rack or parchment-lined baking sheet in a well-ventilated spot away from direct sunlight and moisture until it dries. Another method is pickling, which adds a delightful tartness and umami richness to the fruit. Simply place sliced yuzu in a brine mixture of salt, sugar, vinegar, and optional spices, then seal the jar tightly and refrigerate for at least a week to allow the flavors to develop.


Yuzu on the desk. Japanese citrus.

Yuzu is a standout citrus fruit known for its uniqueness and versatility, praised for its rich nutritional profile and distinct aroma. In culinary circles, it contributes a vibrant, tangy taste to sweet and savory recipes, while its vitamin C richness and antioxidants make it a prized element in skin care and cosmetics. Moreover, yuzu holds cultural significance in Japan, notably during seasonal customs like yuzu baths, showcasing its profound importance beyond its functional benefits.

Explore the lively realm of yuzu and enhance your culinary endeavors with Bokksu Boutique's premium yuzu offerings! Whether you're a professional chef or an adventurous home cook, yuzu brings a zesty burst of excitement guaranteed to please your palate. Alongside our exceptional yuzu products, Bokksu Boutique introduces a fresh collection nearly every month, featuring specially curated boxes and exclusive items from Japan.

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