“These are for you,” she said handing me a huge bag of yuzu. “My family grow these and I have too many.”
I was living in Oita at the time. It’s a prefecture on Kyushu Island famous for its hot springs, monkeys, chicken and fugu – that super famous deadly delicious blowfish. I had no idea what a yuzu was and what I was supposed to do with it. It looked like an orange on the outside and a lemon on the inside.
“How do I eat this?” I asked her, completely unaware that I was receiving a large quantity of an incredibly expensive gift. Although common in Oita – one of these fruits can cost between 300-500 yen ($3-$5) in Tokyo depending on the size. Known as Citrus Junos in English, the fruit is believed to have originated in China and Tibet.
“We use it in baths on the winter solstice,” she says. “We also make tea, dressings and yuzukosho with it.”
Yuzukosho would quickly become one of my favourite Japanese seasonings. Wow. Just wow. It’s made with yuzu peel, chilli and salt. Despite its simplicity – it’s packed with flavour. Yuzukosho is bitter, spicy, citrusy and gingery all at the same time. I’ve bought Yuzukosho a couple of times in Tokyo, but the ones in Oita are just waaaay better.
Back in Oita, I also took many yuzuburo yuzu baths. You cut the yuzu in half and let it float around as you soak in scented water. It’s said to make your skin very soft as well as guard you against colds. I can’t vouch for the latter, but I can definitely vouch for the former. I’m generally not a ‘sit in hot water for long periods of time’ type of person, but I absolutely adored yuzu baths. The fragrance was relaxing and soothing.
Now that I live in Tokyo, these yuzu baths feel excessive and decadent.
Yuzu also has a little brother. Its name is Kabosu: commonly grown in the Usuki and Taketa areas in Oita. Unlike yuzu, kabosu is less well-known. Originally from China, there are some kabosu trees in Oita that are 200 to 400 years old.
Often mistaken for lime – the tasting notes are considerably different. Kabosu is strong, sour and extremely acidic. It is used in pretty much the same way as yuzu – although unlike yuzu – a quarter of kabosu is sometimes served alongside dishes like a lemon that is meant to be squeezed and enjoyed fresh. Many people also use kabosu as a substitute for vinegar.
I don’t miss living in Oita – but even a city girl like me can’t help but remember the splendour that is Oita’s countryside. Yuzu and Kabosu – they truly are Japan’s citrus culinary treasures.