Yuzu looks like a cross between a lemon and a small mandarin orange. It is orange-yellow in color and has loose, slightly wrinkly skin that's often zested and used for infusing into liquor, cream for desserts and as a marmalade or jam. This low-acid citrus is found namely in Japanese cuisine, though it's also popular in Korea and China. Over the years yuzu has made an appearance in the American cocktail scene where it's prized for the tart juice and strong, pleasing floral aroma.
What Is Yuzu?
In the most basic form yuzu is a type of citrus cultivated in Asia. Originally the fruit is thought to have been grown in China and Tibet, the hybrid of a mandarin orange and the ichang papeda, a hard, green and oblong citrus also native to the area. Most yuzu fruits mature to the size of a small fist, though they have been known to get as big as softball or large grapefruit. Unlike other citrus, this plant grows on bushes laced with sharp thorns, making harvesting tough and the prices for this fruit higher than other similar ingredients. Currently most yuzu is still grown in Asia, though growers have started to plant this fruit in other parts of the world on a small scale.
How to Use Yuzu
Yuzu has a strong, tart flavor that works well to balance out boozy cocktails. Unlike its sister citruses, yuzu juice can stand alone in these drinks and give the tipple an bright essence that normally would be drowned out by liquor. Try it in a whiskey highball, a gimlet or classic sour. Also use yuzu to substitute lemon or lime and give these drinks a twist.
In food yuzu works well when whipped into a simple dressing for a leafy salad or roasted vegetables. It can also be zested and added into baked goods, on top of smoked salmon, garnishing grilled chicken and in any other way a zing of citrus can be appreciated. Traditionally the Japanese make ponzu sauce with yuzu, rice wine, rice vinegar and soy sauce, which gets paired with dumplings, used as marinade for meat and can be put into a meal as seasoning while it's cooking.
One way yuzu shouldn't be eaten is whole. The tartness runs akin to lemon, though some say it's even more intense, though less acidic. Best to use yuzu in a sauce, seasoning or component in a cocktail. Another way to tame the sourness is through sugar, and confectioners have taken yuzu juice and put it in truffles, ice cream and pie, and candied the peel to use as a sweet garnish.
What Does Yuzu Taste Like?
The flavor of yuzu leans toward a mandarin orange, but with a strong tart bite to it that makes it closer to a lemon in taste. In fact it's so sour it's not great to eat in segments as you would a regular orange, which is why chefs and bartenders just use the zest from the rind and juice from the flesh. There's also a floral undertone that gives yuzu a delicate essence despite the tartness, similar to the nuances found in a mixture of grapefruit and lime juices.
Yuzu can take the place of lemon in many recipes, and sometime orange juice though it's much tarter than the latter and won't work in a one-to-one ratio. With that in mind, use yuzu in an array of dishes as a sauce, in beverages and to flavor meat.
Where to Buy Yuzu
Sourcing fresh yuzu isn't easy since it doesn't grow much in the United States. A small amount has been harvested in California, and other citrus farms may have experimented growing yuzu, but most yuzu comes from Asia. If you're going to find it fresh look for yuzu between September through November. The Asian markets are the best place to go, followed by a specialty grocer that may import the fruit. The other way to get yuzu is as bottled juice and frozen zest.
Keep fresh yuzu in a cool, dim place in the pantry. If the fruit is green it can be ripened in a paper bag or just by sitting out on the table longer. Yuzu juice can either be frozen or kept in the fridge, both methods should preserve the juice for at least a couple months, though fresh juice tastes better the quicker it's used. Frozen zest should be used as needed and kept cold for up to a year. If the zest is fresh use right away, otherwise it will dry out in a couple days. Dried zest can also get used, though the flavor won't end up as pronounced.
Nutrition and Benefits
Like other citrus fruits, yuzu contains a heavy amount of vitamin C, even more than a lemon does. This ingredient is also high in citric acid, calcium and potassium.
The hana yuzu is an ornamental variety of citrus used for its sweet-smelling flowers not the zest or juice. In Japan one can find yuko, a type of yuzu only grown there that is rare and was endangered in the 1970s. The bumpy skinned yuzu is called lion or shishi yuzu and tastes along the same line as the common fruit. While this citrus does grow in Korea, the dangyuja is not actually yuzu but often gets mistaken for it (it's actually a type of pomelo).
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