Find out how this seemingly complex fruit is surprisingly easy to use. Here's what you need to know about buying and cooking with yuzu.
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Yuzu on a designed background
Credit: Getty Images / manbo-photo

If you've ventured out into the dining scene lately, chances are you've encountered yuzu on the menu. Chefs, bakers and mixologists have long been using this unique citrus to bring that je ne sais quoi factor to their dishes. Fortunately, you don't have to be a seasoned food professional to know how to use this fruit. Here's everything you need to know about yuzu—from what it tastes like and how to cook and source it, to some of its potential health benefits.

What Is Yuzu Fruit?

Yuzu is a fragrant and sour citrus fruit that originates from China or Korea but is most often associated with the food of Japan. Also referred to as a Japanese citron, or yuja in Korean, yuzu is a hybrid citrus variety, a cross between the Ichang papeda and a sour mandarin orange. So, what does a yuzu fruit look like? It is similar in size and appearance to a tangerine, but its rind is thick and bumpy. Yuzu's peel starts off green and turns into a warm yellow when ripe. Inside, the fruit's flesh is yellow and full of many seeds, resulting in much less juice per fruit than a lemon or lime. Due to this and how difficult it is to harvest, yuzu is more expensive compared to other citrus varieties.

What Does Yuzu Taste Like?

Yuzu is very sour and tastes like a mix between a tangy lemon, bitter grapefruit and sweet orange. Its tart flavor profile is underscored with hints of floral and herbal notes. Compared to other more common citrus varieties, yuzu has a powerful aroma, giving off a zesty, honeysuckle-like fragrance when ripe.

Yuzu's Cultural Importance

Yuzu is an ingredient that can be found in both Japanese and Korean cooking. However, the fruit is more widely used in the former. In Japanese cuisine, yuzu features in a variety of foods, ranging from soup and sashimi to pastries. It also plays a significant role during celebrations like the one for the winter solstice, during which taking a yuzu bath is said to bring good luck. On the island of Shikoku, one of the largest producers of yuzu in Japan, the fruit is a celebrated commodity and emblem. One of the island's prefectures even holds a festival every fall solely dedicated to the fruit.

What Is Yuzu Used For?

In the kitchen, yuzu can be used the same way you would use a lemon or lime. Its juice can provide acid and depth to a dish, while its zest can bring a little zing and fragrance. Use it in your next vinaigrette, marinade, cocktail or dessert, and the end result will be a tarter and more floral version than the original recipe. Although yuzu is rarely, if ever, eaten straight, the entire fruit can be preserved in sugar and eaten like marmalade or used as a compote for tea, which is known as yuja-cha in Korea.

Unlike lemons and limes, which are most prized when fully ripe and juicy, yuzu can be used during all stages of maturity. When the fruit is unripe, green and rock-hard, its zest can be used as a wonderful garnish or flavoring agent. In Japan, green zest is often used to make yuzu kosho–a spicy fermented paste made with yuzu zest, chiles and salt.

Yuzu is also a popular ingredient found in aromatherapy and skin-care products. The fruit's fragrance is said to have a calming effect, while its high concentration of vitamin C is said to help with anti-aging regimes.

Where to Buy Yuzu

Fresh yuzu can be hard to come by in the United States because the U.S. does does not allow the fruit to be imported from other countries. However, finding it is not impossible as there are a number of farmers, mostly in California, who grow yuzu stateside. Look for green yuzu at the farmers' market or in specialty stores from August to October and yellow yuzu from November to December. Alternatively, bottled and pasteurized yuzu juice can easily be found year-round online and at Asian grocery stores, especially at Japanese markets. Both shelf-stable and frozen options are available.

Aside from pure yuzu juice, there are many other products that feature the fruit as their star ingredient. For a little spice, look for packaged yuzu kosho at the Japanese market—green varieties are usually made with unripe zest, while red varieties are most often made with ripe zest. For something sweet, yuja-cha is an easy find at a Korean store. Yuzu-flavored products are also becoming easier to find at non-Asian markets, so keep a lookout the next time you go to your regular shop (the beverage aisle is a good place to start).

What Are the Health Benefits of Yuzu?

In addition to its stellar culinary qualities, preliminary research has shown that yuzu's nutritional profile is a winner as well. The fruit is a good source of vitamins, minerals and fiber, which are important nutrients for our body's well-being. Yuzu is also full of antioxidants such as vitamin C, flavonoids and carotenoids, which can help reduce inflammation and neutralize damage caused by free radicals. The fruit is especially high in vitamin C, containing 59% of the Daily Value in a 3.5- ounce serving of fresh juice.

limited number of studies have also shown the positive benefits of practicing yuzu aromatherapy. Subjects reported having increased levels of energy and productivity and decreased levels of fatigue, tension and anxiety.

Bottom line

Yuzu is a citrus fruit that is valued for its aromatic and flavorful juice and rind. Despite its complex profile, yuzu is surprisingly easy to use. Next time you find yourself reaching for a lemon or lime, go for yuzu instead. Your dish will shine with a new level of brightness, and your palate will thank you.