What is yuzu? Ι Cultivation Ι What does yuzu smell and taste like? Ι What’s the difference between yuzu and lemon? Ι Why is yuzu so popular? Ι Description Ι Culinary uses Ι Health benefits Ι Where can I buy yuzu? Ι How to grow yuzu
What is yuzu?
Yuzu (Citrus junos Sieb. ex Tanaka) is a citrus that is believed to have originated from the Hubei Province, along the Yangtze River. It is thought to be a natural hybrid of the Ichang papeda (Citrus cavaleriei), a small wild species of lemon, and a sour mandarin. This fruit was introduced to Japan over 1,000 years ago during the Tang dynasty.
Yuzu is an essential ingredient in Japanese cuisine, particularly in the Kōchi Prefecture, where it is widely cultivated. The fruit’s unique aroma and tart flavour make it a versatile ingredient that is used in everything from marinades and dressings to desserts and beverages. Yuzu is also used in traditional Japanese medicine for its health benefits, which include reducing inflammation and relieving symptoms of colds and flu.
In recent years, yuzu has gained popularity around the world for its distinct flavour and fragrance. It has become a sought-after ingredient in high-end restaurants and cocktail bars. As a result, yuzu has become an important part of global culinary culture and is now cultivated in various regions outside of Japan.
Japanese: Yuzu – 柚子
Korean: Yuja – 유자
Chinese: Xiāngchéng – 香橙
Yuzu’s origins can be traced back to the upper regions of the Yangtze River in China, where it was discovered growing wild by agricultural explorer Frank Meyer. In 1914, seeds from the fruit were brought back to the United States by Meyer, who originally named the fruit Kanzu orange. Meyer described the yuzu as follows:
- The fruits were loose-skinned, round flattened, the size of mandarin oranges, color of rind light yellow; rind full of oil glands, smelling like a fine lemon; segments separating easily; fairly juicy and of an agreeable sharp sour taste; contains plenty of large seeds.
This discovery marked the beginning of yuzu’s journey from its native region to other parts of the world.
Related: Sudachi citrus
The epicentre of yuzu cultivation is Kōchi Prefecture, on Shikoku Island, Japan which once enjoyed a booming Yanase cedar logging industry. Wood was transported along the Yanase Forest Railway that connected the towns of Nahari, Tano, Yasuda, Kitagawa and Umaji. By the 1960s, the logging industry fell into decline as cheaper wood became available. The Yanase Forest Railway closed in 1964. Locals who had grown yuzu in household gardens for centuries, switched their focus to yuzu, planting citrus groves alongside the old railway line, renaming it Yuzu Road. In 2017, Yuzu Road was declared a heritage site by the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs.
The region now produces 800 tonnes of yuzu each year, which accounts for half of the national harvest. Umaji is a small village of 800 people and the epicentre of the yuzu farming industry. Signature dishes in Umaji include inaka-sushi, a sushi dish containing preserved vegetables or sweet fried tofu, flavoured with yuzu vinegar. Yuzu ponzu, a yuzu citrus dipping dish, and Gokkun Umajimura, the official yuzu citrus drink of Umaji.
In autumn, the Yuzu Hajimaru Festival is held in Umaji which marks the start of the yuzu harvest season.
Related: Australian finger lime Buddha’s hand citrus
What does yuzu smell and taste like?
Yuzu peel has a highly aromatic and refreshing zesty citrus scent with a sweet accent. The taste is described as a combination of lemon, and grapefruit, with mandarin notes, floral undertones and a sharp, acidic aftertaste. Yuzu leaves have a citrus aroma with a hint of pine.
What’s the difference between yuzu and lemon?
Yuzu is a separate citrus species from lemon, although the flavour is somewhat similar. Lemons and yuzu are both hybrids but originated from different species of plants.
|Ichang papeda (Citrus cavaleriei) x bitter
|Citron (Citrus medica) x bitter orange|
Why is yuzu so popular?
The versatility of yuzu makes it one of the most popular citrus fruits in East Asia, with a wide variety of culinary and therapeutic uses.
Yuzu is an evergreen tree that reaches a mature height of 3.5 metres, with a spread of 2 – 3 metres. The fruit is smaller than other citrus, around the size of a golf ball. Immature fruit is green but once mature, the fruit is yellow, thick with a lumpy rind. The juice is much more sour and acidic than other citrus fruits.
Yuzu produces highly-scented white flowers from April to May, followed by small, green fruit from June to August. Most citrus trees produce far more fruit buds than the tree can support, and will drop the majority. In November and December, the fruit matures and turns a beautiful yellow/orange colour. The Japanese eat yuzu fruit when it is green and when it is yellow/orange.
Yuzu is an aromatic fruit with a sour, tart taste, it can be eaten raw or cooked. The peel, juice (called yuzusu or yunosu ) and seeds are all used in Japanese and East Asian cuisine to add flavour to a number of and drinks including:
- Yuzuri and yuzushu liqueurs
- Flavoured gin or vodka
- Yuzucello (Italian liqueur replacing lemon with yuzu)
- Yuzu-cha (Japanese tea)
- Yuzo kosho (Japanese condiment)
- Yuja-cheong (Korean marmalade)
- Yuja-cha (Korean yuzu tea is made by mixing yuja-cheong with hot water
- Yuja-hwachae (Korean punch made with shredded yuzu)
- The highly aromatic zest adds flavour to vegetables and fish
- The dried rind can be ground and used as a spice
Yuzu can elevate any dish or beverage that calls for a touch of lemon. The fragrant leaves of the yuzu tree can be employed to add depth to various savoury preparations such as curries, stews, and soups.
Apart from its culinary applications, yuzu can also be used as a fragrant room spray. The essential oils extracted from the fruit are commonly used in aromatherapy and cosmetics for their antiseptic properties that are beneficial for treating oily skin and acne.
Yuzu is rich in vitamin C and antioxidants (nomilin, limonene, vitamin C) and contains anti-clotting properties (hesperidin and naringin). In Japan, yuzuyu (柚子湯) is a bathing tradition in which celebrated during the winter solstice in which whole fruits are added to the bath water, and are said to ward off colds and flu, treat arthritis, rough skin and rheumatism and brings wealth and good health.
Additional health benefits include:
- Seventeen women with premenstrual symptoms inhaled yuzu essential oil, which resulted in a significant decrease in emotional symptoms along with decreased heart rate, increased high-frequency power of heart rate variability and decreased tension-anxiety, anger-hostility, and fatigue-common.
- Limonoids from yuzu seeds may protect against lung, breast, colon and prostate cancers.
- Water extract from yuzu was found to inhibit influenza virus A/Taiwan/1/86(H1N1).
- A 2006 study found p -methoxycinnamic acid extracted from yuzu seeds had antimicrobial properties against Micrococcus luteus, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli and Salmonella enteritidis.
- One study found an extract from yuzu peel had an anti-diabetic effect on test mice and significantly reduced weight gain and a rise in liver fat content.
Where can I buy yuzu?
The yuzu is now one of the most widely cultivated citrus fruits in Japan but until recently was not well known outside East Asia. However, yuzu has recently attracted the attention of chefs around the world. Specialist nurseries and greengrocers may be able to supply yuzu trees or fruit. For Australian readers, Daleys Fruit stock grafted yuzu trees.
The importation of yuzu fruit and trees is banned by the United States Department of Agriculture due to the risks associated with importing common diseases prevalent in Asian citrus that could impact citrus growers in the United States. Yuzu is however grown in the United States from trees introduced by Japanese settlers in the 1800s.
How to grow yuzu
Yuzu are slow-growing trees that can take five to ten years before they produce fruit from a seedling. Grafted trees will generally fruit within the first 1-3 years. However, it is recommended the flowers be removed from immature trees to allow them to direct their energy into growth instead of fruit production. The stems contain 2.5 cm sharp thorns, which can make harvesting more of a challenge.
Yuzu is more cold-tolerant than other citrus varieties and can survive down to -9°C. Its preferred location is full sun, with free-draining soil. Fertilise with a good quality citrus fertiliser four times a year. All citrus species have shallow feeder roots, therefore underplanting is not recommended as they do not like to compete with other plants for nutrients. Feed a good-quality citrus fertiliser 3 – 4 times a year and mulch well.