What Is Yuzu? Here's What You Should Know About the Fruit, Including Its Health Benefits
Yuzu isn't new, but it's a fruit that is unfamiliar to many Americans. If you've vaguely heard of it but you're not exactly sure what it is, you may have noticed that yuzu—pronounced yoo-zoo—has been popping up on menus across the US. Chefs and mixologists alike love to incorporate the fruit into cocktails, slaw, sushi, ramen, rice, and desserts, such as yuzu sorbet and tarts. If you haven't had the chance to experience yuzu yet, it's worth seeking out. Here's a primer on its flavor, history, and potential benefits, as well as where to find it and healthful ways to enjoy the citrus fruit.
What is yuzu, exactly?
Yuzu is thought to be a hybrid between a sour mandarin orange and another type of citrus called Ichang papeda. Fresh yuzu is about the size of a golf ball, with a bumpy green and yellow skin. It's fairly juicy and has a distinct tart, sour taste that's described as more intense than that of a lemon. It's also very fragrant, with aromas of lemon, lime, grapefruit, and lemongrass. It's even been described as smelling like pure sunshine.
Many believe that the fruit originally hailed from China's Hubei Province, along the Yangtze River. However, others say it originated in Korea, was later introduced into China, and eventually made its way into Japan approximately 1,000 years ago. Yuzu is a popular acid citrus used in food preparation in East Asia, and there are actually many yuzu selections and hybrids in Japan and China.
To protect American growers from agricultural diseases prevalent in Asia, yuzu cannot be imported into the US. However, it's now grown in California, which means it is legally sold within the US. While I personally have not seen the fruit in a store, you might be able to find it at an Asian grocery store. If you're having trouble finding it in person, you can order yuzu online from a US distributor. For example, produce company Melissa's sells 8-ounce packages of the fruit when in season—September through December. (The company does note, though, that some states—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and Hawaii—prohibit the shipment of any citrus into the state.) Japanese company Lausac also sells yuzu in the form of 100% organic juice ($14; amazon.com).
Yuzu health benefits
Yuzu's nutrition facts do not appear in the US Department of Agriculture database, and there is little published research in humans about health outcomes tied to yuzu consumption. However, a paper from Food Reviews International says that yuzu is a rich source of bioactive compounds, including flavonoid, anthocyanin, phenolic acid, and carotenoid antioxidants, which have actions in the body that may promote health. Yuzu is also a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The fruit's juice, peel, and seeds have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antimicrobial properties; prevent blood clots; and support the formation of new blood vessels.
As for non-edible uses, one small study published in BioPsychoSocial Medicine looked at the soothing effects of the fragrance of yuzu. The fruit's essential oil is thought to affect the autonomic nervous system activity, which plays an integral role in the mind-body connection. To see if that's true, 21 women in their 20s were exposed to the scent of either yuzu or, as a control, water. Researchers measured the volunteers' heart rate variability, which reflects nervous system activity, and assessed the Profile of Mood States (POMS), a psychological index, both before and after the aromatic stimulation.
Ten minutes after inhaling yuzu, the women experienced changes, such as a significant decrease in heart rate, that suggested the fruit does have an effect on the parasympathetic nervous system activity. The effect continued for at least 25 minutes. In addition, the POMS tests revealed that yuzu resulted in a decrease in total mood disturbance, which included reduced tension-anxiety and fatigue, for as long as 35 minutes. Scientists say the study reveals that yuzu's aromatic effects could help alleviate negative emotional stress. But it's important to note that essential oils shouldn't be used without the guidance of a healthcare professional, as there can be potential risks, side effects, and interactions with medications.
How to use yuzu
You can incorporate the juice and rind of yuzu into a variety of recipes, and a little goes a long way. Due to its limited availability, I have only experimented with yuzu a little bit. But I do take advantage of every opportunity to enjoy it in expertly crafted restaurant dishes, cocktails, and mocktails.
Yuzu's sour profile can be balanced with a variety of interesting ingredients, including sweet ginger, honey, yams, and grains; salty sea vegetables and soy sauce; bitter matcha and leafy greens; and umami-based seafood and mushrooms.
If you're new to yuzu and you like to cook, here are a few recipes to try at home:
As the taste for global cuisine continues to expand, you'll likely hear more about yuzu in the near future. This unique citrus fruit is a feast for your senses and offers key nutrients and antioxidants. Grab it during its brief California season, or try it in bottled juice form.
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