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YUZU for YOU
One of the wonderful things about citrus fruits is their sheer variety of form, flavor and usefulness. Here we feature the increasingly popular Yuzu. Famously valued in Asian cuisines for centuries, Yuzu is now inspiring fusion chefs throughout the world. This cold hardy tree (known to survive temperatures as low as 10 degrees F) grows wild in both Tibet and Central China, yet has been most appreciated as a cultivated tree in Japan and Korea.
Here are just a few examples to illustrate Yuzu’s importance. The zest and juice are essential ingredients in Japanese Ponzu sauce, as well as important components in some miso soup recipes and chawanmushi (an egg custard dish). Yuzu-cha (Yuja cha in Korea) is a syrupy marmalade-like concoction which, stirred into hot water, makes a warming tonic tea to ward off winter chills. At midwinter (Toji, or Winter Solstice) Yuzu fruits are the preferred fruit to float in one’s ceremonial bath to encourage good health in the New Year. The wood of the Yuzu tree is also valued by crafters of the traditional Korean oboe, the taepyeongso. Yuzu wood remains the preferred material for making the main body of the instrument.
As demand for unusual citrus varieties increases, Four Winds Growers plays a role in preventing the importation of diseased citrus by supporting the University of California’s Citrus Clonal Protection Program. “Clean” Yuzu budwood became available through this program beginning in 1998. Four Winds’ Yuzu trees are derived from budwood brought from China in 1914. Their acquisition is attributed to the remarkable plant explorer, Fred Meyer, whose namesake is of course the Meyer Lemon.
Because of its cold hardiness, Yuzu is one of the few citrus varieties that one can conceivably try to grow in temperate regions of the US where winter lows may dip below freezing. The tree’s toughness is reflected by its long sharp thorns and tendency to bend and twist with inclement weather. It is easy to imagine Yuzu trees growing among craggy rocks and goji berries in the Tibetan foothills. Taxonomic authorities believe the Yuzu to have originated from hybridization of a sour mandarin (C. reticulata) and the lemon-like Ichang papeda, from which it derives its remarkable cold hardiness. Also known as Citrus junos, the more laboriously correct taxonomic name is C. ichangensis x C. reticulata var. austera. Two other varieties of Yuzu cultivated in Japan are shishi yuzu (literally “lion yuzu”) which has bumpy skin and hana yuzu, which is valued more for its fragrant flowers than for the fruit.
Ready to grow your own Four Winds Yuzu tree? Care is basically similar to that required for all citrus. It needs plenty of sun, excellent drainage and regular feeding to produce ample foliage, flowers, and of course fruit. If you wish to grow it in the ground to test its cold hardiness, it is still advisable to select the site carefully. Make sure it will have plenty of sun (a minimum of 6 hours a day) in winter and summer. Select a spot that is sunny and protected from wind, such as near the south facing wall of your house, and because of the thorns, make sure there will be space to walk around it as it grows! Drainage must be excellent. If you have heavy clay soil, be sure to work it well beforehand, and plant your tree on a raised mound to improve drainage. Don’t forget to fertilize with a high nitrogen food during the growing season! Flowering occurs in spring and fruit will be ready to harvest in winter (December/January).
Ponzu Sauce (Traditional Japanese Dipping Sauce)
Yuzu cha (Warm citrusy drink)
Edamame Shiso Salad with Yuzu Vinaigrette
Photos by MH Seeger, © Four Winds Growers