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Taste Japan | Yuzu & Yuzukosho
Salt and pepper just go. Like bread and butter. Almost every recipe signs off with ‘season with salt and pepper’, and for good reasons. Pepper is still the world’s most traded and possibly, most popular spice. The Japanese, however, brings it up a notch higher by flavouring the spice with its treasured tart and fragrant citrus fruit, the yuzu. The distinctive flavour profile of yuzu has made this signature fruit an enviable ingredient for cuisines worldwide. Last year during our trip to Japan with JNTO, we enjoyed our chicken hotpot with yuzukosho at Mizutaki so much we simply had to arrange for a visit to the yuzu pepper factory this year!
A Japanese pasty condiment made from chillies or peppers then cured with salt and yuzu zest and juice, yuzukosho gained international fame with its unique and intense taste profile. With the saltiness from the fermentation process, spiciness from the chilli peppers and delicate tartness from the yuzu fruit, yuzukosho has become a wildly popular secret weapon for chefs who want that extra edge and flare in their dishes.
Just 1.5 hours’ drive from the Fukuoka Airport is the yuzukosho factory, a family business that began in 1918. Surrounded by rice fields, the 3rd generation owner bought over some mountainous land to plant some 1000 yuzu trees. Yuzukosho is a Kyushu specialty, with almost every family having its own recipe. Unique to Kyushu is its use of yuzukosho to replace wasabi for sashimi, while in most parts of Japan, the condiment is used as a dip for hot pot dishes and miso soup.
We learned from the visit that the yuzu trees fruit only every ten years with fluctuating harvest yields according to the climate. When the fruits ripen in winter, they are harvested, peeled and juiced, then frozen to be kept for the year. Five yuzu fruits yield approximately 100ml of juice that can in turn be used in ponzu sauce, salad dressing, or simply enjoyed as a refreshing drink. Yuzu peel requires many fruits, and as such, is expensive and not typically popular amongst the Japanese. The factory places its focus on producing yuzukosho that is sold in both domestic and international markets.
A pricey gem of a citrus, this fruit has its origins in China but gained its stronghold in Japan with its versatility in bath, medicinal and culinary uses. The owner of the yuzukosho has also set up a yuzu specialty café. All things yuzu. Won’t you like that too?
Inside this stylish hipster café sitting on pristine manicured lawns is an astonishing array of yuzu products. I love all the bells and whistles of this yuzu-themed café, not just because of my partiality towards yuzu, but how delicate everything is here!
First up, the good old yuzu juice, straight. Yuzu juice drunk neat is extremely sour, but it doesn’t cut the tongue the way lemon juice does. Less acidic, softer on the palate, more fragrant and finishes with a bright floral profile. Yuzu isn’t taken straight usually, but getting to taste it this way has certainly helped me to understand how it has become the darling of chefs worldwide.
We were shown the green, red and yellow yuzukosho, the type of chillies used determining the colour and taste of this salt-cured condiment. Green yuzukosho, the most common form, lends a dramatic depth to jelly and oysters, while the red variant is used typically in dumplings and oden (Japanese winter dish with egg, fish cake, octopus etc in a flavourful dashi stock). Yellow yuzukosho has more mature notes of bitterness and is used to season the steaks served on board Japan Airlines International (JAL) First Class flights. We were instantly smitten with the chiffon cake made with yellow yuzukosho that gives the aromatic dessert a complex salty and tart taste with a slightly spicy after-taste. So pillowy light and refreshing I really struggled to stop at one piece!
Given the versatility of yuzu, it is also made into powder to be used as salt for tequila and tempura. There are also the beverages like yuzu cider, yuzu soda water. And the list goes on.
From its intensely sour origin to clean-tasting, umami-rich flavouring for savury dishes and sublime spin to sweets, you can certainly put Japan’s citrus crown on pretty much anything! The flavour that gives and gives.
Read more on SouperChef Anna’s travel to Japan on our e-magazine. Download Here.