Yuzu looks like a cross between a lemon and a small mandarin orange. It ripens from green to orange-yellow in color and has loose, slightly wrinkly skin. Yuzu is utilized for its juice and zest, which are infused into liquor, added to cream for desserts, and made into marmalade or jam. This low-acid citrus is found mainly 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. In addition to the whole fruit, yuzu is also sold as bottled juice and candied peel.
What Is Yuzu?
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, oblong citrus also native to the area. 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.
Unlike other citrus, this plant grows on bushes laced with sharp thorns, making harvesting tough, and therefore the prices for this fruit higher than other similar ingredients. Most yuzu fruits mature to the size of a small fist, though they have been known to get as big as a softball or large grapefruit.
There are a few types of yuzu, although it is only the common variety that will be found in the U.S. The hana yuzu is an ornamental variety of citrus used for its sweet-smelling flowers but 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. Often mistaken for yuzu is the dangyuja, a type of pomelo grown in Korea.
How to Use Yuzu
Yuzu is utilized for its juice and zest, but it should not be eaten whole; though less acidic, the tartness runs akin to lemon (some say it's even more intense). The fruit needs to be juiced or zested before adding to a recipe. It is best to use yuzu in a sauce, as a seasoning, or as a component in a cocktail. Another way to tame the sourness is through sugar; yuzu juice is found in truffles, ice cream, and pie, and the peel can be candied and used as a sweet garnish.
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 a bright essence that normally would be drowned out by liquor. Try it in a whiskey highball, a gimlet, or classic sour. Also, use yuzu as a substitute for lemon or lime to give these drinks a twist.
This citrus can also be used 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 to baked goods, sprinkled on top of smoked salmon, and used as a garnish for grilled chicken. Traditionally the Japanese make ponzu sauce with yuzu, rice wine, rice vinegar, and soy sauce, which is often served with dumplings, used as marinade for meat, and can be used as a seasoning while cooking.
What Does It Taste Like?
The flavor of yuzu is similar to mandarin orange, but with a strong tart bite that makes it closer to a lemon in taste. Because 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.
In many recipes, yuzu can take the place of lemon, and, though it's much tarter, sometimes orange juice (but not in a one-to-one ratio). With that in mind, you can use yuzu in a variety of ways, such as in sauces and beverages, and to flavor meat and fish.
Where to Buy Yuzu
A small amount of yuzu is grown and harvested in California, and other citrus farms may have experimented growing yuzu, but since most of it comes from Asia, sourcing fresh yuzu can be challenging.
To purchase fresh yuzu, look for this citrus between September through November. Asian markets are your best bet, followed by a specialty grocer that imports the fruit. It may be easier to find bottled yuzu juice and frozen zest, especially from online retailers.
Keep fresh yuzu in a cool, dark place in the pantry. If the fruit is green, it can be ripened on the counter or in a paper bag (which will be faster). Bottled yuzu juice can either be frozen or kept in the fridge; both methods should preserve the juice for at least a couple of months, though fresh juice tastes better the quicker it's used. Frozen zest should be used as needed and will keep for up to a year. If the zest is fresh, use it right away, otherwise, it will dry out in a couple of days. Dried zest can also be used, though the flavor won't be as pronounced.
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