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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogWhat is Yuzu? Getting to Know a Tasty Japanese Fruit

What is Yuzu? Getting to Know a Tasty Japanese Fruit

By Kim Kahan
January 08, 2022

You may have seen or heard of a fruit in some of your favorite Japanese dishes, called yuzu. But what is yuzu? Cultivated in Japan, this tiny, yellow, wrinkled ball of citrus fruit is ¾ the size of a golf ball and has a unique flavor that is easily recognizable.

Fresh yuzu juice is sour and tart, with a wonderful floral fragrance like a cross between a grapefruit and a lime. It is no wonder that it is loved by chefs around the world.

But What is Yuzu?

Yuzu is a relative of the lemon, grown in Asian countries like Japan, Korea, and China. It is especially loved in Japan, where its flavor is used in all types of products, from salad dressing and ponzu sauce to hot spring water and aromatherapy oil.

This luxurious Japanese fruit is a citrus hybrid, and is said to have originated in China over 1000 years ago, a hybrid between a mandarin orange and another citrus fruit. The fruits are very hardy and can grow in cold temperatures, although for yuzu trees to bear fruit it can take around 10 years. Walking around Japan in September through November, you’ll be able to spot the fruits on the branches of many trees in gardens in residential areas. 

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These fruits are later to bloom than their counterparts which tend to flower in summer. The fruit consists of lots of peel and lots of seeds. In fact, just one can only yield around 1-2 teaspoons of juice. 

So why is it so prized in cooking? 

This is because it is wonderfully fragrant, with a very distinct taste that isn’t badly affected by high temperatures, unlike other citrus fruits. The flavor itself is not limited to just a fragrant aroma, it is also sour and tart, which works well to balance other flavors. Not only is the juice used in cooking – and often simply a small amount is enough – but yuzu zest is used in many dishes. 

Yuzu Dishes

Three chicken skewers on a black plate sit with dots of a yuzu pepper blend on top.
Chicken skewers that use a special Japanese citrus and pepper blend is quite a popular treat with a cold beer. Image via Shutterstock

Perhaps the most well-known use of yuzu is in ponzu sauce, a Japanese condiment often used as a dipping sauce for dishes such as sashimi and Japanese hot pot. 

Another use of this sour and tart fruit is as a flavor for ‘yuzu kosho (pepper),’ a salty, spicy Japanese condiment made from fresh chili peppers that are fermented together with salt, yuzu juice and zest. This special Japanese chilli paste takes on new, delicate floral notes with the addition of this Japanese citrus. Yuzu kosho can be added to Japanese hotpot or used in miso soup to provide a fragrant lift. This seasoning can also be mixed with soy sauce as a dip for sushi. 

This Japanese fruit is commonly used as a flavoring for Japanese tea – yuzu-cha (tea) is a popular drink among all ages, and yuzu & honey hot drinks are often made to combat or provide cold relief, just like honey and lemon hot drinks in Western cultures. 

Yuzu zest can also be found in soba (Japanese buckwheat noodle) restaurants and noodle shops, where it is used as a topping for hot noodle soups – just one or two slivers of zest can add a delicious taste to a delicate dish without spoiling the flavor.

Yuzu Wagashi 

A cup of yuzu tea with ice with a yuzu fruits surrounding it and a marmalade made of the same fruit in the background
Teas using yuzu are great for a refreshing summer drink, similar to tea with lemon. Image via Shutterstock

This unique Japanese citrus is also used to flavor many different convenience store snacks and brands of sweets. We’re talking from potato chips through to candy, chocolate and even ice cream. 

The most traditional type of sweet using this fruit is called ‘yuzu ame (candy)’, and it is agar-agar flavored with a unique fragrant aroma. Everything about this sweet screams ‘delicate’ and even the texture is biteable, yet not chewy. This is known for being served at Japanese grandma houses!

A newer type of ame is the typical boiled candy that comes in big bags, often used as throat sweets, with yuzu jam on the inside of the hard boiled candy, melting deliciously as the candy on the outer layer is dissolved. 

Aside from sweets, typical Japanese wagashi (Japanese style sweets) feature this fruit in abundance, from yuzu dorayaki (castella patties sandwiched around a filling) through to yokan (traditional Japanese jelly candy). 

Yuzu Conbini (Convenience Store) Snacks

A bowl of a clear ramen soup using yuzu in the broth on a black tray in a ramen shop.
Ramen with a lighter broth is also a great option for this citrus fruit as it can help to add an extra lightness. Image via Shutterstock

Head into any convenience store and you’ll be able to find an array of Yuzu flavored snacks, from Mintia Breath Mints through to gummy sweets, ice cream & sherbet, and candies. 

Aside from candies, this little tart fruit can be found as a more ‘adult’ type flavoring for chocolates such as Melty Kiss chocolate, Lotte chocolates and Fujiya Look. Yuzu is often paired with rich flavorings such as dark chocolate and as a flavoring for truffles.

It’s not just sweet foods either. Doritos and potato chips in Japan will often have a yuzu variety, and in many convenience stores, their own brand fried chicken might also have a flavoring using this sour fruit, sometimes even paired with chili!

Would you like to try a yuzu flavored snack or candy? Whether you fancy something chewy like a gummy or traditional like dorayaki, you’ll be able to find a Japanese snack to cater to your needs. Let us know what you try!

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Kim Kahan

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