Highlighted Japanese IngredientYUZU

Aromatic flavor that brings out the best of Japanese cuisine

Yuzu is a traditional Japanese citrus fruit that has been used to season local cuisine from old times. Unlike a tangerine that is eaten as it is, yuzu is normally used to bring out the flavor and fragrance of Japanese cuisine. About the size of a palm and weighing about 120–130 g, it has a peel that is thick and lumpy. A surface that is firm and few scars or black dots is believed to be a good indication of a high-quality yuzu.

A distinctive refreshing aroma is the main feature of yuzu. Although both its juice and peel are full of aroma, its peel contains high levels of aroma constituents and can be finely grated and sprinkled over raw or grilled fish to enhance the flavor. In recent years, chefs in Paris and New York have been using yuzu in cooking pasta, sautéing, and making desserts to take advantage of its distinctive fragrance. When thinly sliced, the peel can be used both as a seasoning and for making marmalade. Yuzu can also add a special decorative touch when used as a dish after the flesh has been scooped out. The peel can be thinly sliced at an angle to garnish ozoni, a special soup associated with New Year in Japan. These examples illustrate how yuzu can be enjoyed in various ways. Its sour juice is used to make ponzu, sunomono (Japanese vinegary salad), hotpot, yuzu cocktails. Juice can be easily squeezed when a whole yuzu is sliced in half and its flesh mashed with a fork.

Grown on inland mountain areas to avail of the temperature gap to bring out fragrance

Yuzu is believed to have originated from the upper river basin of the Yangtze River in China. It reached Japan through the Korean Peninsula sometime before the Nara period, flourishing around 1300 years ago and grown in western Japan to be used as medicine. Currently, yuzu is grown in Korea, Australia, Spain, Italy, France, and China—where it originated. However, the yuzu produced in Japan have an unrivaled, rich aroma, having been cultivated mostly in inland mountain areas, where there is a significant temperature gap between daytime and nighttime. The branches of the yuzu tree are covered with extremely sharp thorns that often damage the fruit, particularly during heaving winds. This has contributed to the notion that the yuzu is difficult to maintain. Yuzu trees are known to grow slowly and the “Misho growing method,” which means growing from seed, takes 15–20 years before yuzu trees can bear fruit. For this reason, this growing method is practiced in only one of the most traditional growing areas. This method incorporates a great deal of handling care, enabling the farmer to bring out a strong fragrance and rich flavor in the fruit. In most areas, however, yuzu is grafted onto a tree such as a trifoliate orange tree to allow it to bear fruit within only a few years.

There are various theories about the origin of the name “yuzu” but the most famous one explains that the character “yu” (as read in Japanese) is a Chinese word for yuzu and that “su (zu)” means vinegar for which yuzu was oftentimes substituted, leading to the creation of the term yuzu.

Yuzu bath, a winter season offering on the winter solstice, for blood circulation and moisturizing

Yuzu was once used as a medicine and believed to be able to prevent cold. The Vitamin C content of 100 g of yuzu juice is 40 mg while it is as much as 150 mg for every 100 g of edible yuzu peel, which suggests that the fruit has a high Vitamin C content in its peel in comparison to other citrus fruits. Yuzu also has a high fiber and pectin (6900 mg in peel and 400mg in juice per edible 100 g) content, which normalizes stomach function and lowers cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It also contains citric acid and aroma constituents that are used in aromatherapy. Low acidity and long shelf life are some other positive features of yuzu. While unheated juice must be kept in the refrigerator, heat sterilization enables the juice to be stored at room temperature for a long period of time.

Yuzu bath, a seasonal practice on the winter solstice, is said to have originated in the Edo period when public bath was introduced in Japan. As the substances found in yuzu melted into the bath water, thus promoting blood circulation, yuzu bath gained public acceptance. The Japanese then came to recognize its beneficial effects, giving rise to the now popular aphorism: “having a yuzu bath on the winter solstice prevents cold” became popular. To prepare for a yuzu bath, put yuzu in a muslin bag first. After squeezing the bag a few times, place the bag in the bath water. Many believe that a yuzu bath moisturizes skin and provides relaxation.

Kochi has the largest yuzu-growing area in the country, which is about 1200 times the size of a soccer ground.

Japan produces approximately 27,000 tons of yuzu annually, and the top-producing region is Kochi Prefecture, accounting for about 52% of the production share. Kochi has been increasing its production since the early 1960s in response to the growing domestic demand. In 2016, the yuzu-growing area in Kochi was 860 hectares, which is about 1200 times the size of a soccer ground. Tokushima and Ehime Prefectures are the next top producers, accounting for 13% and 11% production shares, respectively, as according to the 2016 survey conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Yuzu is also grown in Tohoku district, especially in Rikuzentakata City and Ofunato City in Iwate Prefecture.

Yuzu is available throughout the year but its shipment is concentrated in the months from November to January the following year. The fruit can be categorized as aoyuzu, which still has green peel when shipped between summer and autumn, and kiyuzu, which is shipped from autumn once its peel has turned yellow. Kiyuzu is known to be juicier than aoyuzu. Being a cold-resistant fruit, yuzu can be grown at home gardens and can be stored even at room temperature for a few days upon harvest in winter.

Japanese-grown yuzu expanding sales channels in Europe

Increasing its presence in sauces, dressings, macaroons, and desserts in French cuisine, yuzu is expanding its sales channels especially in Europe. Kitagawa Village in Kochi, which was the top-producing area for yuzu, has set its eyes on the markets of France, the food capital of the world. In 2011, after hosting the Tasting Event for Kochi Yuzu in France, Kitagawa Village gained a high reputation from the local chefs. After participating in the food show there in autumn the following year, they received orders from buyers across approximately 20 countries for the production of only 3 tons. That year, the village exported 30% of its production to overseas customers, and the export destination has since expanded to 25 countries, including the United States and Singapore, within only several years. Since 2013, another town from Kochi, Otoyo, has joined in yuzu exports to Europe that subsequently prompted prefecture-wide efforts in expanding exporting business and promoting the brand of Kochi Yuzu globally.

Tokushima Prefecture, the second top-producing region, is exporting yuzu from local areas such as Naka Town, Kamikatsu Town, and Miyoshi City to Europe, the United States, and Australia. The Kito area in Naka Town produces Kito yuzu, a branded yuzu registered in the Geographical Indication Protection System (GI System) that protects brand names of local agricultural, forestry, and fishery products as intellectual properties. The reputable quality of Kito yuzu is backed by the high praise for it received from food wholesalers in France. Food processing businesses in the area also engage in producing a variety of processed yuzu products. They have so far developed ponzu, canned shochu-based beverages, jelly, and canned mackerel in an effort to gain publicity inside and outside of Japan.