Freshly squeezed sunshine: the unquenchable zest of the yuzu fruit
With its knobbly yellow skin and ugly great pores, the yuzu is not a pretty fruit. But its fragrance is beautiful: a dazzling sunburst of lemon zest, pungent grapefruit, sweet mandarin, lemongrass and scented bergamot. As I write this, I have a yuzu sitting on my desk, and every time I catch a whiff of its perfume my heart leaps.
The yuzu smells like sunshine – but it’s harvested in the coldest months. In Korea and Japan, where the best fruits grow, peak season is November to January. And during that time yuzu is used in all sorts of ways to keep the chills at bay. Korea’s version of the hot toddy is yuzu marmalade mixed with hot water. In Japan it’s yuzu tea, made from yuzu peel, hot water and honey. To mark the winter solstice, the Japanese celebrate by immersing themselves in baths full of bobbing yuzus – a practice said to guard against colds, improve the skin, invigorate the body and relax the mind.
Yuzu season is short, and fresh fruits can be hard to come by – particularly if you live in the west. 250g of yuzu from The Wasabi Company, a specialist UK importer, will set you back £7.50. But there are many other ways to enjoy this citrus fruit’s incredible aroma, in or out of season.
The high-tech Linden Leaf distillery in Cambridge makes a fabulous yuzu essence that can be spritzed over food and drink. It’s derived from yuzus grown on the Japanese island of Shikoku – Japan’s premier growing region – using a fine-tuned method called chilled extraction, which captures the fruit’s coruscating topnotes in a way that conventional distillates do not. Use it in place of lemon peel to garnish a Martini or a G&T (Linden Leaf Cocktail Elements Yuzu, £22 for 20ml).
Yuzu is also the key note in an increasing number of gins. In Linden Leaf’s 8 Molecular Gin it shares the bill with kaffir lime and peppery grains of paradise (£35 for 70cl). In Kyoto Distillery’s Ki No Bi gin, it figures among an array of Japanese botanicals including hinoki wood, green tea and sansho pepper (£42.90, masterofmalt.com).
Yuzu has a pithy, slightly bitter side to it that suits tonic water too. Qyuzu Tonic (£1.65 for 200ml, thewasabicompany.co.uk) is flavoured with yuzu grown in Spain. Fentiman’s Oriental Yuzu Tonic Water (£2.19 for 50cl, hollandandbarrett.co.uk) is also good, with or without alcohol.
The loveliest yuzu drink of all, though, must surely be yuzushu – the Japanese answer to limoncello. Made from a base of sake or shochu, this yuzu liqueur is gentle on the alcohol at around 10 per cent abv, but bursts with citrusy flavour. It’s good sipped neat, at the end of a meal, in a highball with tonic or, my favourite, served 1:3 with champagne. Try the zesty Kodakara Yuzushu from Yamagata’s Tatenokawa brewery (£24 for 720ml, tengusake.com), or the richer, more marmalade-y Gozenshu Yuzushu from Tsuji Honten in Okayama (£19 for 50cl, tengusake.com). East London’s Ever After bar also does a bottled Tokyo Collins, made with gin, yuzushu and soda, that’s well worth the price of a Deliveroo (£15 for 330ml, happinessforgets.com).
Many so-called yuzu sodas are actually just lemon juice with a bit of yuzu flavouring. Sansu Drinks, however, promises a high-quality yuzu hit. Established by Korea-born former banker Saehwan Park, the UK-based company sources the yuzu for all its sodas and hard seltzers from Wando island in the south of Korea, “one of the few places in the world where yuzu is sustainably grown”. Hard seltzers are not really my cup of tea, but Sansu’s non-alcoholic sodas, which include Yuzu + Pear and Ginger + Yuzu, impart a wonderfully zesty jolt (£24.99 for 12 250ml bottles).
Japanese craft soda company Kimino also makes a great sparkling juice, using fruit sourced exclusively from family farms on the island of Shikuko; the juice they make from sweet-and-sour ume (Japanese apricots) is also very good (both $24 for six 250ml bottles).
Even brewers have been seduced by yuzu. The Japanese brewer Kiuchi uses it to give its Hitachino Yuzu Lager (£3.39 for 350ml, virginwines.co.uk) a citrusy lift. And yuzus figure in experimental recipes from Manchester’s trendy Cloudwater brewery, including Never Before/Again, a deeply flavoured blend of aged sour ales, yuzu and salt (£17 for 750ml), and the tongue‑spangling Yuzu & Pineapple Soda (£16.75 for six 440ml cans) a non-alcoholic brew of pineapple, citrus and hops that’s sure to bring even the sleepiest taste-buds out of hibernation.