Yuzu is an ugly little lemon/grapefruit monster. We know it’s unkind to say it, but this oft wrinkled little citrus fruit from Japan is not going to win any beauty contents. Luckily, when it comes to taste, it’s what’s inside (and the oils in that skin) that matters, and yuzu packs one hell of a punch.
You would have had to try really hard to not witness the explosion of this fruit in the last couples of years. As a passion for Japan came, so did a passion for its ingredients, from sansho to cherry blossom to matcha to this beautiful little fruit. Looking a little like a forgotten grapefruit, the yuzu is a beautiful one to taste, capturing the imagination of many distillers along the way.
While it is widely regarded as a Japanese ingredient, the fruit originated in China, but a wee bit of seed sewing during the Tang Dynasty saw the fruit flourish wildly across Japan and Korea. It is rare, amongst the citrus world, at least, for a plant to be as hardy as the yuzu, but its complex ancestry allows it to survive deep frosts.
Hints of lemon and grapefruit intertwine, resulting in a rich, pungent citrus taste that tends to dominate proceedings. The Japanese use it to makes jams and marmalades, they use the oils from the peel as a relaxant in the bath and – perhaps most famously of all – use it to make ponzu sauce. Koreans, for their part, drink it with honey as a tea equivalent.
The popularity of Japanese produce and the sheer deliciousness of yuzu means that it’s in hot demand. Less than a decade ago, Korea was struggling to keep up with the Japanese import market, but with the fruit now a “must have” in Western countries too, demand is far outstripping supply, driving the price up (and causing scraps in the supermarket aisle as and when it does land on these shores).
With lemons, limes, grapefruits and oranges widely available across the world, it isn’t remiss to wonder if the use of yuzu is a statement, rather than a decision driven by flavour. Yuzu screams of the exotic, positively draping a Japanese flag across the gin, the food, the bath gel it contains. Yet while the flavour it presents is rich, intense and booming, it isn’t necessarily one that cannot be substituted with lemon or grapefruit.
Gins in which yuzu is noticeable to taste:
Ki No Bi Gin, as the proud waver of the ‘first Japanese craft gin’ flag, is rich with the stuff. It fills the nose and mouth with huge lemony flavours. Japanese inspires Jinzu gin, made with cherry blossom and sake, also features yuzu, as does the brand new gin Roku… can you see a pattern?
A twist of yuzu peel would make a great impact on a Martini (and on your wallet)!
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