Japan’s Citrus Fruits Are Loved by Many for Their Refreshing Fragrance

   Citrus fruits are one category of fruits that Japanese people love. Apart from eating the flesh of these fruits as they are, people use the refreshing flavor of their peels to give an accent to Japanese food. These fruits are used in a variety of areas in life apart from meals. For example, people put citrus fruits in their bath tubs instead of bath salts. This article looks at how Japanese people enjoy bringing citrus fruits into their lifestyles.

Japanese People Love Citrus Fruits

   Citrus fruits are one category of fruits that are loved by Japanese people. The Unshu Mikan, or satsuma orange, is particularly familiar among Japanese people as a simple snack that you can peel by hand and eat easily. Japan places importance on the continuity of family lineages, and so Japanese people around the Edo Period (1603–1868) avoided seedless satsumas because they were associated with childlessness. However, from around the Meiji Period (1868–1912) onward, satsumas were produced in great quantities because they were easy to eat without seeds.

   The flavor of satsumas has different degrees of sourness and sweetness depending on the time of harvest. Satsumas sold around the fall have a strong sour flavor and are mildly sweet, giving them a refreshing taste. The satsumas at stores in the winter are well-known for being intensely sweet.

Satsumas growing on a tree

Satsumas in a basket

   In the cold winter months, it is common practice to eat satsumas while sitting in a Kotatsu, a Japanese heater that is shaped like a table with a blanket covering it. Satsumas help you keep hydrated while your body is warmed by the Kotatsu. Some families buy many satsumas packed together in cardboard boxes, because they eat this fruit so often.

Eating satsumas in a Kotatsu

Peeling a satsuma by hand

   Recently, there is a trend for peeling satsumas in fun ways. This is a typically Japanese pastime, as Japanese people are dexterous with their hands.

Fun ways to peel satsumas

   In recent rankings about the quantity of fruits consumed in Japan, satsumas come third after bananas and apples. Satsumas were top place around 1988. It is thought that they dropped in these rankings because fewer homes have a Kotatsu now. This goes to show how deep the connection is between Kotatsu and satsumas, and how eating them in a Kotatsu is a traditional custom among Japanese people.

   Many of the lemons sold in Japan are imported from overseas, but there are also lemons produced in Japan. The Seto Inland Sea is the largest inland sea in Japan, and is surrounded by Western Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. The “Seto-uchi lemon” is a famous variety that is grown near this inland sea. With a warm climate all year round and with few instances of heavy rains or typhoons, this is an ideal location for cultivating lemons. Less pesticides are used for Seto-uchi lemons compared to imported varieties, bringing them a significant advantage as they let you rest assured when eating them.

Lemons beside the Shimanami Kaido (Photo provided by the Onomichi Tourist Association)

   There are many varieties of citrus fruits in Japan from different locations around the country. Each variety has its own flavor and individual characteristics. For example, a small citrus fruit called a kumquat is eaten with honey to prevent colds. Another sweet citrus fruit called Dekopon has a distinctive appearance—it looks as if it has a huge belly button. The tree for the Natsu Mikan, or Japanese summer orange, comes into bloom around May, and the fruit are ready to eat around May of the next year. These fruit are slightly bitter and sour but refreshing. Citrus fruits are on sale almost all year round in Japan, so you can enjoy them any time of the year.



Natsu Mikan in a basket

Natsu Mikan on a tree beside a Japanese-style white plastered wall (Photos provided by the Hagi Tourism Association)

Citrus Fruits Give an Accent to the Flavor of Japanese Cuisine

   In Japan, citrus fruits are also used in the form of condiments called Yakumi, owing their refreshing taste. You will often see thin yellow strips decorating Japanese dishes. These are cuttings from Yuzu peel. Yuzu is a type of citrus fruit with a strong and pleasant aroma. The fruit is very sour, so it is used for fruit vinegar and other recipes.

   Yuzu is also used in seasonings. One kind of seasoning called Yuzu-kosho is made with chili peppers and Yuzu. It features a mix between the refreshing aroma of Yuzu and the spicy flavor of chili peppers. This seasoning is used as a Yakumi for sashimi, tempura, and other Japanese dishes.

   Yuzu Pon-zu Shoyu is another type of seasoning using Yuzu or other citrus fruits with a soy sauce base. This seasoning offers a blend of the salty and rich taste from soy sauce made with fermented soybeans, along with zesty sour Yuzu juice. Yuzu Pon-zu Shoyu is used as a dipping sauce for pork Shabu Shabu (thin slices of pork boiled with vegetables and other ingredients) and blowfish sashimi.

Sliced Yuzu

Yuzu peel on top of Zoni, a dish eaten in Japan at the start of the new year


Pouring Yuzu Pon-zu Shoyu on chilled pork Shabu Shabu

   The Sudachi is a green citrus fruit that is highly sour and offers a refined taste. Sudachi and lemons are tangy and refreshing, so they are used in alcoholic drinks, or are cut into slices and served on top of udon and soba, letting you enjoy these Japanese noodles in a revitalizing way during the hot summer.

Sudachi fruit

A Sudachi sour cocktail with roasted eggplant

Sudachi udon

Sudachi soba

   A region called Suo-Oshima in Yamaguchi Prefecture has a custom of putting satsumas in Japanese seafood hotpots made by boiling fresh fish and shellfish from the Seto Inland Sea. It is a striking idea to eat hot satsumas with their skins on, so these “satsuma hotpots” have become a famous tourist attraction for the area.

A “satsuma hotpot” recommended by the Association of Suo-Oshima Hotpot Masters (Photo provided by the Suo-Oshima Tourism Association)

Japanese Citrus Fruits Are Trending Overseas Too

   Yuzu have started to be exported to the west in recent years. Many patissiers compete to make sweets using Yuzu to win awards in contests and other events.
   The Club des Croqueurs de Chocolat is the most influential authority in France regarding chocolate. The Japanese patissier Sadaharu Aoki won the highest possible award for the fifth time at the Salon du Chocolat held by the club in 2018. His store is located in Paris, France, and sells chocolates made with ingredients from Japan. The store also offers chocolates with Yuzu flavor.

“Bonbon chocolat 6P” with Yuzu and other flavors (Photo provided by Pâtisserie Sadaharu AOKI paris)

Citrus Fruits Are Used as Part of Daily Life in Japan

   Citrus fruits are utilized within many areas of daily life in Japan. In the cold winter months, people enjoy Yuzu baths with fragrant Yuzu fruit floating in the tub. There is an old saying in Japan that you will not catch a cold all year round if you take a Yuzu bath. Yuzu baths are said to help retain moisture in the skin, to prevent aging, as well as to help protect skin. Extracts from citrus fruits are also used in shampoos and cosmetics, because they can help keep the skin in good condition, as well as help you relax with their refreshing smell.

A Yuzu bath with Yuzu fruit floating in the water

   The peels of citrus fruits contain something called limonin, which can break up oils. You can remove oily stains in your kitchen sink or microwave oven by rubbing them with the peel of a citrus fruit.
   This idea of making use of peels that would usually be thrown out is thought to originate from the spirit of Mottainai (avoiding waste) among Japanese people.

   Japanese citrus fruits are a deep-rooted part of life, culture, and customs in Japan. You might find it fun to enjoy citrus fruits the Japanese way, based on how people in Japan make use of them.