Yuzu is tart, floral and full of possibility. Most associated with Japanese cooking but also used in other Asian cuisines, the tangy citrus fruit is more complex than lemon or lime, with a more floral flavor and grapefruit aromas. The trouble is, it’s unlikely to see the fresh fruit in stores since it is illegal to import into the U.S. from Asia. Reportedly, there is a thriving black market for the fresh fruit among New York chefs, but thankfully, there are countless ways to incorporate yuzu—legally—into your cooking.
We’re here to answer all your questions about what yuzu is, where it comes from and how do you use it.
What is Yuzu?
Resembling a cross between a lemon and a tangerine, yuzu is a small, spherical fruit with knobby skin and punchy, floral juice inside. While incredibly fragrant, the flesh itself is very sour, not meant to be eaten on its own. Instead, the zest and juice—which evokes the aromas of grapefruit, mandarin and lime—is used to brighten sauces, marmalades, jams, cocktails, creams, baked goods and desserts. The scent is also commonly used in cosmetics, cleaning supplies and candles. Soaking in a hot bath with the rind’s essential oils has been an overall health remedy in Japan since the 18th century.
Where Does Yuzu Come From?
Just three varieties of Asian trees-the citron, mandarin and pomelo–gave rise to some 1,500 species of citrus fruits, and lemons and limes are just the start. Thought to have originated in China, then introduced to Japan and Korea during the Tang dynasty, yuzu fruit is now cultivated across Asia, grown on bushes laced with sharp thorns. Its unusual growing habits make it challenging to harvest and help to explain its lack of prominence in other parts of the world, which explains the scarcity in the U.S., though some growers have started planting it in places like Australia, Spain, Italy, France and California on a smaller scale.
Where Do I Find Yuzu?
Because it is illegal to import fresh yuzu from Asia into the US, getting the whole fruit in your hands can be challenging (and expensive), as they are typically only grown in small quantities in California. When they are in season, from September to January, they are mostly available at Asian markets and online at some specialty shops. However, you can find yuzu juice and zest, which will add the same amount of punch as the fresh stuff, on Amazon. And there are countless other products infused with yuzu at most grocery stores and Asian markets year round.
At the Milk Street store, we have our own curated collection of yuzu-infused products as well, ranging from sweet yuzu marmalade to salty-citrusy yuzu miso, complex and bright yuzu spice blend, subtly sweet and floral yuzu mayonnaise, and more.
How Do I Cook with Yuzu?
In many ways. Japanese ponzu sauce is probably the most common application. The mixture of juice and soy sauce is a great dip for pan-fried dumplings. But many dishes can benefit from its tangy, floral punch, particularly to brighten savory sauces. It is also the essential ingredient in yuzu kosho, a fermented and spicy, briny Japanese condiment that combines chili heat with yuzu.
Besides these popular condiments, it works in marinades, cocktails, dressings or squeezed over proteins. The sour notes balance the sweetness of desserts, like in a variety of baked goods, creams or syrups.
13 Ways to Use Yuzu:
- Whisk into Salad Dressing: Similar to the boost you get with lemon or lime in salad dressing, yuzu adds a great pop of acid to any basic dressing or vinaigrette. Our favorite base ingredient for yuzu dressing is O-Med's Andalusian small-batch yuzu agridulce condiment.
- Shake into Cocktails: Yuzu drinks are having a moment in the bartending community, for good reason. Add it to a whiskey highball, gimlet, bee’s knees, sour or just about anywhere else lemon or lime is called for.
- Use in a Dipping Sauce: For a quick yuzu sauce, mix together yuzu juice and soy sauce to make ponzu, a classic Japanese condiment, for dumplings. Alternately, use yuzu mayonnaise as a replacement for dips and sauces or mix with finely grated garlic to make a quick yuzu aioli.
- Create a Marinade: Make a quick marinade by adding a dash of yuzu juice for some acidity into mixtures like mirin, soy sauce, and grated garlic and ginger. Add to the protein of your choice, like thin fillets of fish or vegetables. Just make sure to not let the food sit in the yuzu marinade for more than 30 minutes; the acidity could turn the ingredient to mush.
- Pair it with Meat: Balance fattier cuts of meat like pork belly or strip steak by incorporating yuzu into a pan sauce, the zest or salt blend into a rub, or brushed with sugar and soy sauce onto meat near the end of cooking for a tangy glaze.
- Throw it into Noodles: The zest or juice of yuzu complements many noodle dishes quite well, especially in stir-fries or noodle salads. For a unique twist, mix yuzu kosho with soy sauce, butter and noodles of your choice for a creamy, rich and tangy dinner.
- Pour into Lemonade: For even more tang, mix lemonade with yuzu juice and chill before serving. The combination of tart citrus with sweet sugar will be a refreshing treat, especially during the summer.
- Swirl into Baked Goods: Sugar and yuzu are a delicious combo in all kinds of baked goods, from cheesecake to cupcakes and cream pie tarts–just add the juice, zest, or a dollop of yuzu curd for a floral kick.
- Mix into Dough: For elevated, citrusy sugar cookies, grate some yuzu zest into your dough before baking.
- Infuse into Cream: Add yuzu peel and juice into a pot of heavy whipping cream over low heat. Strain once done and use to make panna cotta, whipped cream or as the base for ice cream.
- Add Candied Peel: Just like orange peel, candied yuzu peel is addictively good and easy to find. Chop it up and mix into baked goods or use full pieces to garnish a cake or cocktail.
- Stir in Some Syrup: A sweet, punchy yuzu syrup works beautifully in cocktails, drinks, desserts or parfaits and can be easily ordered online.
- Spread Marmalade or Jam: All over the market and deliciously tangy yet sweet, yuzu jam or marmalades pairs nicely spread across toast or dolloped on top of yogurt.
Learn more about yuzu and other citruses on our livestream class Citrus: Sweet and Savory, coming up on March 2.