By Elizabeth Furey and Valerie Lum
he small but potent yuzu fruit has been prevalent in East Asian cuisines for centuries and is now something of a secret weapon for chefs around the world.
Originating in China, along the Yangtze River, the yuzu was brought to Japan around the year 710. The fruit was in high demand in Japan because of its culinary, beauty and medicinal applications. The yuzu continues to be in high demand—on a worldwide scale— with the popularity of East Asian cuisine bringing the ingredient to a whole new audience.
It’s no wonder yuzu has become a favorite ingredient in amateur and professional kitchens alike. The flavor is a familiar blend of lime, lemon, and grapefruit—with an essence of floral perfume. Despite its diminutive size (comparable to a golf ball) is has about twice as much vitamin C as a lemon, but lacks the astringency.
Matt Hoyle, Executive Chef at Nobu Fifty Seven jokingly says the juice is so versatile, it’s in 299 of Nobu’s dishes.
“There’s a real fragrant aspect to it, that gives it a unique taste,” Hoyle said. “It’s easy to balance it with the other ingredients.”
Not just for cooking—the yuzu has spa-like applications, as well. When added to a hot bath, a person can reap the fruit’s healing benefits. Traditionally, yuzu baths are taken on the Winter Solstice in Japan. The fruit is believed to ward off the cold and the flu, while also remedying dry winter skin. If letting citrus fruit float in your tub doesn’t sound appealing, yuzu extract has been added to many mainstream beauty products, so you can reap the benefits for your skin with ease.
Fresh yuzu can be purchased where produce is sold, but it is scarce. In the US, it is actually illegal to buy yuzu imported from Asia, because of the chance of tree disease spreading. Domestic yuzu is available in the US, and is primarily grown in California.
The easiest way to incorporate yuzu to your everyday cooking is to use it as the acidic element to your salad dressing. Meena Throngkumpola, Executive Sous Chef at Nobu Fifty Seven said that it’s an unusual citrus because it has both acidity and fantastic flavor.
“It’s very vibrant, but gentle. It’s a good palate cleanser,” Throngkumpola said.
If a person managed to get a hold of fresh yuzu, you can make a nice marmalade with it. Hoyle, who has made yuzu marmalade on several occasions, thinks it’s lovely to serve it with foie gras or a roasted duck.
“I’d even just spread it on some toast or a French baguette with butter and have it with a cup of tea for breakfast,” Hoyle said.
Nobu can also help you get your fill of yuzu. One of our most influential and popular signature dishes, New Style Sashimi, takes advantage of the fruit. Yuzu soy sauce (2 parts soy sauce, 1 part rice vinegar, and yuzu juice) gives our sushi a depth of flavor. Yuzu is also a terrific and refreshing ingredient for Nobu cocktails—like the Yuzu Kumquat Cooler, which meets all of your citrus needs.