Yuzu: The Citrus Fruit Gaining Attention Around The World

The attractive Yuzu plays an indispensable supporting role in complementing Japanese dishes.

Yuzu Harvest (2020-07)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Japan has a citrus for every season. Among Japanese people, one of the fruits that evokes thoughts of wintertime is undoubtably the yuzu (also known as the Japanese citron). Rather than vinegar, squeezing a little yuzu juice or sprinkling on some rind lends an aromatic kick to any meal. A versatile fruit, yuzu also appears in a wide range of processed foods, such as miso paste and ponzu (citrus-based seasoned soy sauce). It’s time to now take a peek at the world of the yuzu, a key part of Japanese cuisine and a fruit that adds color to any dish...

View of Monobe (2020-07)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Monobe: Home of the world’s best yuzu

Yuzu is a winter citrus with a rich acidity and distinctive aroma that has been popular for centuries; today, the fruit tree can be found growing in household gardens all over Japan. Yuzu’s profile was raised considerably overseas in the early 2000’s when Ferran Adrià, renowned head chef of Michelin three-star restaurant El Bulli in northern Spain (‘the hardest restaurant in the world to get a table at’), began championing the fruit. In recent years, yuzu has been gaining ever-increasing attention among chefs, both in Japan and abroad.

Yuzu Harvest (2020-07)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Japan is both the world’s biggest producer and consumer of yuzu. Over 50% grown are from Kochi Prefecture on Shikoku Island. In the mountainous east of Kochi lies the Monobe District. Home to around just 2,000 people, Monobe ships more tamayuzu, or whole fruit, than anywhere else in the country. Not only are the yuzu from Monobe — home to perhaps the best yuzu in the world — known for their superior taste and fragrance, but they are also beautiful to behold and possess a long shelf-life.

Yuzu Farm (2020-07)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Perfect yuzu-growing country

Large-scale production of yuzu in Monobe began around 1960. However, according to Takuya Hirose, who is familiar with the district’s history and instructs locals in yuzu cultivation, the citrus has been grown in household gardens here for centuries.

“Monobe is surrounded by steep slopes in every direction and there is little in the way of flat land,” Hirose points out. “As a result, rice has just never really been viable here. Being a staple crop, it has naturally been grown, but in only limited amounts. That has also meant that it has been hard to produce rice vinegar. It is said that is the reason people here long ago turned to the yuzu grown in their gardens to make vinegar from the fruit juice. If you look around Monobe even now, you’ll see many huge old yuzu trees growing in gardens.”

Monobe once had a thriving sericulture industry. However, as silk production declined with the times, the resulting vacant agricultural land was soon taken over by a burgeoning yuzu cultivation industry — eventually leading to Monobe becoming one of the top areas for yuzu growing in Japan.

Mr. Muneishi (2020-07)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Only 2% make the top grade

Masashi Muneishi is the Vice President of the Monobe Yuzu Producers’ Committee. So attracted was he by Monobe’s yuzu, he left a career in nursing to begin growing them here himself. He describes the impact the alluring citrus fruit from this part of Japan had on him the first time he encountered it…

“I knew a guy who grew yuzu and I had the chance to help him out at harvest time. It was the first time I encountered Monobe’s yuzu and wow: did they impress! Firstly, they are beautiful. Hardly a bump on them with a rich, glossy shine. And then, there’s the incredible aroma. I thought, ‘This is one fine fruit!’ The taste of them was completely different from any yuzu I’d had prior to that. I was a man possessed! The following year, I quit my job and became a yuzu farmer.”

Sorting of Plums (2020-07)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Sorting of Plums (2020-07)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Monobe prides itself not only on the flavor and fragrance of its yuzu, but also on their visual attractiveness. While yuzu grown elsewhere are often processed into ponzu (a tangy, citrus-flavored soy sauce), miso, or juice, Monobe focuses on sending its yuzu to market as they are. Because of this, it is important to ship only the most beautiful fruit.

“Monobe has steep slopes along valleys where the temperature difference between day and night can be extreme. However, this alone does not make for a quality yuzu,” Muneishi explains. “The peak of harvest season is October-November, but the critical point is after harvest through to spring when we have to prune the trees back. Yuzu are quite fragile, so plenty of meticulous care is required. Weeding and dealing with pests is a constant all year round. And, despite all the tender care that is put into growing them, even at my orchard, only about 2% are considered to be of the highest rank when they’re picked.”

Yuzu of Monobe (2020-07)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Those chosen as highest ranked are subject to strict selection criteria. They must have a radiant, uniform color, and their surface must basically be blemish-free. They should also have a smooth shape with little unevenness and basically not have a single dark spot on the skin — Japanese cuisine requires yuzu to also possess a beautiful, radiant color.

“I am out in the grove almost every day of the year — it’s just very enjoyable!” Muneishi declares. “It’s so rewarding because the more care you put into tending the trees, the better the quality of the fruit. There are many producers in Monobe in their 70s or 80s who have been doing this longer than me — to a person, they take great pride in their work. They’re very discerning, many really looking to grow works of art. They are a real inspiration. We are all in a kind of competition to see who can grow the best yuzu!”

Yuzu Tsukudani (2020-07)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Yuzu dishes from Kochi

After the tireless efforts of these producers, yuzu from Monobe are put to market and delivered to restaurants and home dining tables all over Japan. Rie Komatsu, born and raised in the village, is well-known for her local cuisine. She gives an insight into a few ways yuzu is used in dishes made in the district.

Yuzu Harvest (2020-07)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

“When we say ‘vinegar’ in these parts, we are actually referring to yuzu juice! We use this yuzu juice ‘vinegar’ when we make sushi or some vinegared dish, for instance. We squeeze a little onto sashimi or grilled fish, or mix it with shochu for a drink — there’s so many ways to enjoy it. In this neck of the woods, yuzu is one of those versatile seasonings people use every day. If you freeze the rind, you can use it all year-round. It takes about half a day of hard work, but I personally like to stew up a big batch of yuzu. It’s interesting, you know — each family here has their own yuzu recipes. Oh, and another thing we do is scoop out the flesh and use the rind as a little bowl — it’s something a little special and fun when visitors drop by. You can pop in some pickles or pour in yuzu jelly. If you mix the fruit juice with some honey and sugar then let that simmer, you can make yuzu syrup, which goes very well as a mixer”

Gomoku Sushi (2020-07)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Monobe-style gomoku-zushi

Komatsu’s favorite yuzu dish is gomoku-zushi (sushi with several ingredients mixed in or sprinkled on top). This local dish is almost always the one prepared when a large group of people gather to eat in the Monobe area.

“The basic ingredients are carrot, shiitake mushroom, and gobo (burdock root). If you add other things like bamboo shoots or Japanese butterbur, you get a real taste of the seasons and it makes it delicious. These ingredients are cut into small pieces and boiled. Meanwhile, you mix in sesame seeds and finely chopped dried small fish into the rice and adjust the flavor with the yuzu ‘vinegar’, sugar, and salt. Then, all you have to do is mix in the other ingredients to the rice, and voilà! It also tastes good if you grate in some fresh ginger, too!”

Yuzu Farm of Monobe (2020-07)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

“We yuzu farmers soak in a hot bath with yuzu bobbing about in it every evening. It’s wonderful for the skin and I feel like the pleasant aroma that is released helps to relieve stress. People will place particularly attractive yuzu in the entrance of their homes as a decoration. Oh, and another thing: when I was very young, my mother would boil up some yuzu juice whenever I got a cold and say, ‘Drink up!’ She’d leave the seeds in, making it so bitter. Usually, we take the seeds out, but she’d simply say, ‘They’re good for coughs — no complaining!’” Komatsu laughs.

“I’ll never get tired of yuzu. It’s so delicious on tofu or grilled fish. Even when you put some in with an instant clear soup, it’s like something you’d be served at a fancy restaurant! It’s fair to say yuzu plays an essential supporting role in Japanese cuisine.”

Yuzu Harvest (2020-07)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Credits: Story

Cooperation with:
JA Kochi Prefecture
Kami District Monobe Yuzu Producers’ Committee

Text&Edit: Masaya Yamawaka

Production: Skyrocket Corporation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Meshiagare! Flavors of Japan
Discover Japan's unique dishes, its foodie culture, its diverse landscape of ingredients, and the makers behind it all
View theme
Google apps