It’s the time of year when immune health is on everyone’s mind. The threat of infection seems to be lurking everywhere, from the person coughing behind you in line at the grocery store to your own sniffly nose-kids. You likely already know that citrus fruits, like oranges and grapefruit, can support immune health. Another good one? Yuzu.
You may have noticed yuzu popping up on cocktail menus and in desserts; it’s often used in liquor and marmalade. But although this fruit may just now be gaining momentum in the U.S., its roots can be traced back over 1,000 years.
Here, registered dietitians explain what yuzu is, where to find it, why it’s beneficial and how to experiment with it at home.
What is yuzu?
“Yuzu, also known as citrus junos, is a hybrid citrus fruit that originated in China over 1,000 years ago,” explains Hazel Ng, a registered dietitian at SmartEater. Ng explains that while yuzu originated in China, it is now grown in other places in the world.
Sophie Hung, RD notes that yuzu is a plant in the Rutaceae family, which are flowering citrus fruits. Other plants in the Rutaceae family include lemon, lime, grapefruit and oranges.
What does yuzu taste like?
Like other citrus fruits, yuzu tastes bright and refreshing. “Its flavor is tart and fragrant, closely resembling that of the grapefruit, with overtones of mandarin orange,” Hung says. Ng describes it as a mix between lemon and mandarin orange, with underlying notes of lime and grapefruit. This complex, layered taste is exactly what makes yuzu so special.
Why is yuzu expensive?
Fresh yuzu is banned from being imported into the U.S. in order to protect American agriculture. "However, yuzu is now grown within the U.S., but the supply is scarce and therefore expensive,” explains Hung.
What is yuzu used for?
Yuzu’s vibrant taste makes it fun to experiment with and use in different ways. Since yuzu is quite tart, Hung says that it isn’t typically eaten as is (just like most people wouldn’t bite into a lemon or lime), but there are plenty of ways to utilize the entire plant, including the peel and seeds. “The juice, peel and seeds can be used to flavor vinegar, seasonings, sauces and marmalade,” Ng says, adding that it also makes a great marinade for meat.
Yuzu is used slightly differently in Japan, China and Korea — all places where yuzu is popular. “In Japan, it’s an integral ingredient in the citrus-based sauce, ponzu and yuzu vinegar,” Hung says. Yuzu is often combined with honey to make yuzu hachimitsu, a syrup used to make yuzu tea or an ingredient in alcoholic drinks, such as the yuzu sour.
The beauty of yuzu is that it can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. Hung says that in Japan, it’s used to make a spicy sauce called yuzu kosho, which is made from yuzu zest, red or green chili peppers and salt. While in Korea, yuzu is most commonly used to make marmalade, tea and fruit punch.
Yuzu isn’t just used as a culinary ingredient, however. “It’s also known for its characteristically strong aroma and the oil from its skin is marketed as a fragrance,” Hung says. She explains that in Japan, bathing with yuzu on the winter solace is a custom dating back to the 18th century. “Whole yuzu fruits are floated in the hot water of the bath, sometimes enclosed in a cloth bag, releasing their aroma. The fruit may also be cut in half, allowing the citrus juice to be infused with the bathwater,” she says. “The yuzu bath is said to protect against colds, treat the roughness of skin, warm the body and relax the mind.”
What are the health benefits of yuzu?
1. It may support immune health.
Ng explains that, like other citrus fruits, yuzu contains vitamin C, which supports immune health. The fruit’s peel, flesh, seeds and juice all contain vitamin C, so no matter which part you're consuming, you will benefit in this way. Both dietitians say that another reason why yuzu is good for the immune system is because it’s full of antioxidants. “Antioxidants can protect our cells against free radicals which are molecules that damage cells and are associated with many diseases. Consuming antioxidant rich foods can help reduce risk of brain ailments, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer,” Ng says.
2. Can help maintain a healthy gut.
As with other fruit, Ng says that the fiber in yuzu helps support the digestive tract. Besides this, Hung says that there are some preliminary studies done in animals showing that consuming yuzu could help reduce symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.
3. May promote strong bones.
Remember how Hung explained that the hesperidin in yuzu helped protect against blood clots? It turns out that this flavonoid is also linked to supporting bone health. The vitamin C in yuzu is linked to keeping bones strong as well because it’s important for producing collagen found in bones.
4. Can support brain health.
All nutrients are multitaskers, helping the body in more than just one way. The flavonoids in yuzu are a great example of this. Ng explains that they are linked to improving memory and also protecting the brain from stress.
5. Yuzu may help reduce stress.
In addition to cooking with yuzu, you may want to consider buying it in essential oil form. “The fragrance of yuzu fruit could be an effective stress-reliever,” Hung says. One study found that yuzu’s fragrance helped reduce stress for as long as 35 minutes after aromic stimulation. Another study found that yuzu essential oil helped female college students feel less stressed.
Does consuming yuzu have any side effects?
As with other citrus fruits, for the vast majority of people, eating yuzu is completely safe. However, as with any food, if you’ve never tried it before, it’s best to consume a very small amount to start to make sure your body doesn’t react negatively in any way. If you are prone to heartburn, yuzu may not be the fruit for you as citrus tends to be a trigger in people who are prone to GERD.
Where to find yuzu:
As Hung explained, it’s illegal for fruit to be imported from Asia and sold in the U.S. For this reason, it can be tricky to find. But the first place to look is in the produce section of the grocery store. Like other citrus fruits, Hung says that yuzu can be stored at room temperature. Though if you don’t plan on using it right away, she recommends storing it in the fridge so that it will last longer.
“The whole yuzu fruit can also be frozen to extend its life even more,” she says. “Or, you can freeze the yuzu peel, flesh and juice separately.” She notes that the skin and flesh can last up to one month in the freezer while frozen juice will last for about six months.
Ng says you may also see yuzu juice sold in grocery stores. Before you add it to your cart, it’s a good idea to eye the sugar content and ingredients list first. “It’s important to note that many yuzu products found in supermarkets contain lots of sugar to counterbalance its sourness, so it’s best to look for 100% yuzu juice with no additives to get the most benefits,” she says.
It may take more of a conscious effort to find yuzu than it does other citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit or lemon, but you just may find that its complex taste is a welcome addition to your cooking. As with other fruits, there are so many ways to experiment with yuzu. No matter how you use it, you’ll be benefiting your body in many different ways. Incorporating yuzu into your diet is certainly, well, fruitful!
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