A basket of many yellow yuzu sits on a table

What is Yuzu? The Tasty Citrus Japan Loves

Lovers of Japanese snacks and Japanese ramen might have encountered a tasty, yellow citrus fruit that looks like a lemon but doesn’t quite taste like one. That fruit is called yuzu and it can be found in all kinds of tasty Japanese foods and treats. It’s also gaining popularity overseas as Japan’s food continues to spread worldwide.

That’s why we have a quick and easy guide so that you can be a yuzu master, from what yuzu actually is and how people use it here in Japan!

What is Yuzu?

A yuzu tree with many ripe fruit growing on its branches
What secrets hide behind the bumpy yellow skin of this fruit? Let's find out! Image via Unsplash

As we mentioned briefly before, yuzu is a type of citrus fruit. It’s popular for being very aromatic and for its interesting flavor. It’s tart and sour like a lemon or lime, but it also has a flavor somewhere between a grapefruit and a mandarin orange. It also has a floral taste to it, making it more unique. Many know it for its health benefits as well, being a great source of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals!

It also has a thick, bumpy skin that ranges from green when unripe to golden-yellow when ripe. Yuzu takes a long time to bear fruit, with 10 years being standard. However, the process can be sped up by grafting it onto karatachi bitter orange. That being said, this fruit is actually super hardy, surviving colder temperatures than other citrus fruits!

Yuzu is a hybrid of mandarin orange and Ichang papeda, a lemon-scented fruit. It was grown in China and was brought over to Japan and Korea during China’s Tang dynasty (619-907). Nowadays, it’s still grown in parts of China and Korea, but the largest producer of yuzu is now Japan.

With that, Japan has found plenty of interesting ways to use this citrus fruit in cooking, drinks and more. That’s why many people around the world affiliate yuzu with Japan.

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What is Yuzu Used For?

In Japanese Food

A jar of yuzu hachimitsu honey with fruit rind floating in it
You can find yuzu in all kinds of Japanese foods, including as a syrup used in different drinks. Image via Instagram (@kaoluna_farm)

Much like other citrus fruits, the juice and zest of yuzu is easy to use in various dishes. The zest adds the same zing and citrusy taste that lemon or lime does. This means that you can substitute lemon or lime juice in recipes with yuzu juice, giving your dish a slightly more floral flavor than you’d get with lemon.

Japanese cuisine has found some interesting ways to incorporate this citrus fruit as well. One common use is in ponzu, a citrus-y soy sauce that often incorporates yuzu. It’s also the feature ingredient of yuzu vinegar, which is easy to add to a lot of Japanese dishes for a hint of sour citrus flavor.

Yuzu is also great for drinks as well. One unique drink option is yuzu tea. This tea is made by mixing the juice of this fruit with honey, creating a syrup called yuzu hachimitsu. This syrup is added to water to create a tea. The fruit juice is also great for making yuzu sours, an alcoholic beverage that is super refreshing, especially in summer.

Three glasses of yuzu sour, an alcoholic beverage, with the rind sitting towards the bottom
Yuzu sours really are a refreshing way to enjoy a fun drink during the warmer months. Image via Instagram (@kmayu220)

Another creative use of yuzu is the use of the zest to make yuzu kosho, a spicy sauce made with the zest of this citrus fruit, spicy chili peppers and salt. The zest can come from both ripe (yellow) or unripe (green) yuzu and influences the color of the sauce.

The rind can also be preserved in sugar, creating a tasty sweet and sour treat. You may also see the rind as garnish for dishes like miso soup and chawanmushi (a savory egg pudding dish).

Our favorite way to use yuzu is in ramen. It’s refreshing flavor goes amazingly well with shio (salt base) ramen. It helps to keep the flavor nice and light and makes it smell amazing too.

In Japanese Culture

An outdoor bath filled with plenty of yuzu with a mountain view in the background
This fragrant citrus fruit is an important part of a Winter Solstice tradition in Japan. Image via Instagram (@akira.tanaka.canyoneer)

Yuzu can also be used in Japanese baths, especially on (or around) the winter solstice for both good luck and to prevent colds. Depending on the family or the establishment, how they use it may differ.

Some opt to just put in a whole yuzu (or two) to float in the water or put it whole in a bag. This allows for the fragrance to release into the air and water. However, others choose to cut the yuzu in half. This means that the juice of the yuzu mixes into the hot water.

Yuzu baths have a reputation of being good for preventing colds, warming the body, relaxing the mind and treating rough skin. Because of this, you can also sometimes find (or take) yuzu baths or purchase yuzu bath bombs throughout the year (not just on the winter solstice).

In Japanese Beauty

Yuzu is packed full of Vitamin C and other amazing nutrients, and its scent is quite relaxing for many people. This makes it popular for a lot of Japanese beauty products. From creams and lotions to soaps and body scrubs, you can find plenty of products making full use of this ingredient.

A bowl of a yuzu salt ramen with yuzukosho on top of char siu pork with egg and veggies
Yuzu shio really is an amazing flavor with tons of flavor while still managing to be light and refreshing. And yuzu kosho tastes great on the char siu pork! Image via Instagram (@foodgram.t)

Have you ever tried cooking with yuzu? How do you use it? Would you ever try a yuzu bath? Let us know in the comments!