Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Yuzukosho Spice of Kyushu

Yuzukosho (柚子胡椒) - The Spice of Kyushu

by Johannes Schonherr

Yuzukosho (柚子胡椒) - The Spice of Kyushu.
Yuzu fruits

Yuzu are a citrus fruit famous for their strong fragrance, grown mainly on the southwestern Japanese islands of Kyushu and Shikoku.

Yuzukosho (yuzu pepper) is a paste made of yuzu peel, green chili pepper, salt and a bit of yuzu juice which has been traditionally used in nabemono hot pot soups, typically eaten in winter.

Nowadays, the variety of use for yuzukosho as an ingredient has spread far and wide: from various Japanese soup dishes like udon and soba to yakiniku barbecue to steak seasoning. Some adventurous restaurants serve their sushi and sashimi with yuzukosho rather than wasabi.

Western chefs have also picked up on yuzukosho as an exotic yet multi-purpose spice, enlivening their creations with an earthy yet highly refined note.

Yuzu (柚子) are a winter fruit in Japan

Yuzu Fruits

Buy a premium quality yuzu at a farm in Kyushu or at a department store elsewhere in Japan and take it out of its protective plastic cover.

The fragrance of the fruit quickly fills the room.

That's why it is an old Japanese custom to let a few yuzu swim in the onsen hot spring bath water on a winter solstice night: yuzu being a winter fruit, it brings out the best of the smells of the season.

Cut open the fruit and you will be bit disappointed: plenty of seeds embedded in rather loose flesh. Very little juice can be extracted from a single fruit.

It is the outer yuzu peel that is precious. That's the part of the fruit responsible for the fragrance. Cut the outer, yellow peel off a ripe fruit and you will find it to be a delicious ingredient in soups, salads, pasta or meat dishes.

Yuzu on sale at a Japanese supermarket.
Yuzu on sale at a Japanese supermarket

Fresh yuzu fruits can be a bit hard to come by outside of Japan, however.

A limited amount of yuzu is grown in California, for example, but as food writer Helen Rosner stated in an article for The New Yorker in February 2020 aptly titled Nothing Compares to Yuzu, "the U.S.D.A. [United States Department of Agriculture] has a ban on the import of fresh yuzu from abroad - the fruit and the trees." After lamenting the high prices for yuzu on the U.S. East Coast, she continues saying, "I'm told that, among New York chefs, there is a thriving black market in fresh yuzu smuggled from Japan."

Yuzukosho however can freely be shipped from Japan to the U.S. and anywhere else. Goods from Japan is an easy and reliable source.

Yuzu fruit and Yuzukosho.
Yuzu fruit and Yuzukosho


So, what exactly is yuzukosho? Yuzukosho is a fermented paste made up of the peel of unripe green yuzu, green chili pepper, salt and a bit of yuzu juice.

It contains all the fragrance of the yuzu, it is spicy, can be used for a wide variety of purposes (you might want to experiment with it a bit) and it remains in good, fresh condition for a very long time.

The origin of yuzukosho is central-northern Kyushu. Around the city of Hita in Oita Prefecture, about halfway between the Pacific coast and Fukuoka, farmers have made yuzukosho for centuries. Mainly for their own private use though some of the specialty certainly found its way to the markets of bustling Hita, known in the Edo Period as the Kyoto of Kyushu.

Yuzukosho remained a decidedly local spice of northern Kyushu well into the 1990s, sold at souvenir shops in Yufuin and other hot spring resorts as a sort of unique local gift to take home to friends.

Fundokin Green Yuzukosho

Things changed in the late 1990s when Fundokin, a major maker of miso paste and shoyu (soy sauce), based in the old coastal samurai town of Usuki, just south of Oita City, began to sell and promote yuzukosho on a national level.

Suddenly, yuzukosho became available in stores all over Japan. Chefs in Tokyo and elsewhere took notice and incorporated the spice into their dishes. Snack makers came up with yuzukosho rice crackers, yuzu fruit cakes - if you look out for anything yuzu in any Japanese supermarket, you will find a wide variety of yuzu and yuzukosho products.

The original Fundokin Green Yuzukosho, produced in Usuki, Oita.
The original Fundokin Green Yuzukosho, produced in Usuki, Oita


The original Fundokin Green Yuzukosho, produced in Usuki, Oita without using any additives is conveniently available in the food section at Goods from Japan.


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