Kochi is the largest producer in Japan of yuzu , a versatile citrus fruit that has captured the imagination (and taste buds!) of chefs around the world. Yuzu is a major staple of Kochi's cuisine, used in cooking, beverages and even transformed into a variety of condiments.
Why Kochi's Yuzu Are the Best
One of the most popular citrus fruits in Japan, yuzu have a refreshing aroma and high acidity. Unlike other citrus fruits, which tend to grow best in warm coastal areas, yuzu thrive in colder, more mountainous regions. As over 80 percent of Kochi Prefecture is covered in forest, it has an ideal environment for yuzu cultivation. Starting in the 1960s, Kochi decided to reduce logging and concentrate on the eco-friendlier cultivation of yuzu instead. These days, many mountain slopes are covered with yuzu groves, and the region has become the nation’s biggest producer of the citrus.
One of the best places to visit groves and learn the history of this beloved citrus fruit is along the Yuzu Road near the villages of Umaji and Kitagawa, two of the most prolific yuzu producing areas in Kochi Prefecture.
You can purchase yuzu at street markets, like the historic Sunday Market , or in any supermarket. While driving around you might even see bags of them for sale at unmanned roadside stalls!
Since Kochi is the biggest producer of yuzu in Japan, it's no surprise that it is an important ingredient in local cuisine. Cooks use the entire fruit, from the juice (called yuzusu or yunosu ) which is used in a similar way to lemon juice, to the peel, which is grated and used as a seasoning. Yuzu gives any dish a refreshing kick and adds a pretty dash of color. The people of Kochi love yuzu so much that it's made its way into many of the local dishes and menus of restaurants around the prefecture.
One local favorite is inaka-sushi . In this “countryside” version of Japan’s most iconic dish, the rice is flavored with yuzu juice in place of vinegar, and instead of fish the pillows of delightfully citrusy rice are covered with preserved mountain vegetables, mushrooms or sweet fried tofu.
Yuzu also works beautifully in desserts and confectionery, from Western-style cakes and cookies to Japanese sweets like obanyaki , tiny pancakes filled with yuzu jam. The dried peel is also eaten as a snack. The complex sweet yet sour flavor of yuzu also makes for a particularly refreshing ice cream (or aisukurin , a Kochi version of the frozen treat!) flavor, and you will easily find packaged snacks, such as Mirei biscuits or potato chips, infused with this local favorite.
Yuzu Drinks to Quench Your Thirst
You can find a large variety of made-in-Kochi drinks that feature yuzu juice. There are liquors, shochu (a distilled spirit) and even sake flavored with yuzu , which tend to have a nicely balanced, refreshing yet gently bitter flavor that can be enjoyed straight or on the rocks. There are many soft drinks made with yuzu , each with a slightly different flavor depending on the maker. You can find them in coolers at souvenir shops, supermarkets and even convenience stores, usually in cans or small glass bottles. Since these are made completely locally, you can be sure of the quality of the fruit and know that they were made with love right in Kochi.
At markets around Kochi there are often vendors selling cups of fresh, sweetened yuzu juice, and creative drinks flavored with the citrus are a staple at cafes and restaurants.
Yuzu Condiments to Take Home
Condiments flavored with yuzu make great gifts: they are easy to pack and a little goes a long way!
One tasty option is in yuzu ponzu , a kind of vinaigrette made with citrus, vinegar and soy sauce that is widely used in Japan to add extra flavor to fish, meat, hot pots or tofu. It also works great as salad dressing. Yuzukosho , a spicy and peppery paste made from chilies, yuzu peel and salt, has also been gaining international appeal and can be used in a wide variety of cooking, adding an extra accent to fried chicken, tempura, sauces, salad dressing, pasta and more.
You can also buy bottles of pure yuzu juice, a staple in all Kochi households. Use it to replace vinegar or lemon/lime juice in recipes, or simply mix it with sparkling water, champagne or any other beverage for a refreshing drink.
Yuzu Factory Tour in Umaji Village
Umaji, nestled in the mountains just under 2 hours away from Kochi City, is known as the “village of yuzu .” Besides exploring the Yuzu Road and seeing the citrus groves, you can also tour a factory that makes yuzu drinks. See both the production and packing process, and after the tour take a break in the lobby with one of the tasty drinks made on site. There is a shop connected to the factory that sells drinks, condiments and more, all made with locally-grown citrus.
Umaji-mura Nokyo - Yuzu-no-Mori Factory
Address: 3888-4 Umaji, Umaji Village, Aki-Gun
Hours: 8:30am - 5:00pm
Open year round (except for the period around New Year's)
Tour Cost: Free