Yuzu Kosho Is The Fermented Japanese Ingredient That Elevates Almost Any Dish

green yuzu kosho on plate
green yuzu kosho on plate - bonchan/Shutterstock

Japanese cuisine is famous for its exquisite presentation, high-quality raw fish dishes, and, above all, umami flavor. A word invented by the Japanese, umami is the best descriptor for many of Japan's most essential ingredients, encompassing oceanic fish and seaweed, earthy mushrooms, savory red meat and pork, and a vast array of funky fermented foods. Yuzu kosho is one such fermented ingredient that elevates the umami richness in other foods with a powerful dose of spice, tang, and salt. Consisting of a simple mixture of chili peppers, Asian citrus, and salt, yuzu kosho is a bright and flavorful condiment that's a regional staple in Japan and a new international culinary sensation.This citrusy chili paste is a universal flavor agent that you can spread over meat and fish, blend into broths and sauces, or even add to haute desserts. It might not be as widely available as teriyaki or Tabasco sauce, but you can find it on shelves in Asian markets or specialty stores, and you can easily order it online. It's also simple to create at home with your favorite chilies and citrus fruits. Once you get a taste of yuzu kosho, you'll want to add its unique and vibrant flavor to many dishes, whether it's Japanese sashimi, an Italian pasta sauce, or a batch of cookies.

Read more: 30 Japanese Dishes You Need To Try At Least Once

What Is Yuzu Kosho?

glass jar of yuzu kosho
glass jar of yuzu kosho - bonchan/Shutterstock

Yuzu kosho is a fermented citrus chili paste and long-standing culinary tradition from Kyushu, the Japanese island of its origin. Some attribute its creation to an order of Japanese ascetics known as yamabushi while others place its origin in a small town called Hita as a multigenerational tradition created by yuzu cultivators and their families.

The name yuzu kosho describes two of its main ingredients: yuzu, the East Asian citrus fruit, and "koshō," a Japanese word that refers to chili peppers, especially when it is used in Kyushu. The chili peppers traditionally used in yuzu kosho are either green or red Thai chilies, which are closer in spice level to a habanero than they are to a jalapeño.

Yuzu is a native citrus fruit to Japan and China that varies in size between a clementine and a grapefruit, with a light orangey yellow peel and a strong tart flavor with subtle sweetness; it's closest in flavor to a Meyer lemon or a mix of lemon, lime, and grapefruit. Salt is the final ingredient that is both the vehicle of fermentation and the third flavor to complement the tart citrus and spicy chilies. Yuzu kosho paste is an earthy green or a dark red depending on the chilies used, offering a powerful balance of tart citrus, saltiness, and a spicy, peppery kick from the ground chilies.

How Is Yuzu Kosho Made?

hands holding mortar and pestle
hands holding mortar and pestle - Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock

The production of yuzu kosho is a very simple process, making it easy to recreate at home. Fresh chilies, ripe yuzu peel, and salt get pulverized in a blender, in a food processor, or with a mortar and pestle, then left for a minimum of one week to ferment. Fermentation is one of the oldest preservation methods for foods of all kinds, prolonging their shelf life extensively while also altering their flavors and textures. In the case of yuzu kosho, the salt draws moisture from the chilies and yuzu peel, facilitating the release of lactic acid bacteria, which, in turn, slowly break down the chili mash into the final product.

Since yuzu fruit is only commonly found in Asia, most branded and mass-produced batches of yuzu kosho are imported from Japan. It's new to mass production but has been a homemade condiment for generations. Consequently, you can make the mash at home with a blend of jalapeños and Serranos, lemon and lime peel, or Meyer lemon peel if you can't find yuzu or Thai chiles.

Yuzu Kosho Vs. Kanzuri Vs. Ponzu

plate with yuzu kosho
plate with yuzu kosho - Nutria3000/Shutterstock

Kanzuri is another fermented citrus and chili paste that has overlapping ingredients; both yuzu kosho and kanzuri consist of chilies, yuzu peel, and salt. They're also both regional specialties, however, kanzuri is made exclusively by the Kanzuri family of Myoko, Niigata Prefecture. This means it is a singular proprietary brand with a unique recipe, featuring one of Japan's only native peppers dried in the snow. Kanzuri also contains koji, the rice malt used in sake, and the fermentation process takes years instead of weeks. Yuzu kosho has a much saltier and tarter flavor profile, while kanzuri offers a spicier, sweeter, and umami-rich flavor profile thanks to the koji. You can use them interchangeably with meat, fish, soups, and sauces, but they'll offer different complementary flavors.

Yuzu kosho is more accessible to global markets, easier to make at home, and more open to recipe adaptations. If you can't find yuzu kosho or make it yourself, ponzu is another mainstream condiment replacement. Ponzu is a blend of yuzu juice and fermented soy sauce. While it mirrors yuzu kosho's citrusy saltiness, it lacks spiciness. You could add fresh ground chilies for a better likeness, but if you go through the trouble of grinding chilies, you might as well make your own yuzu kosho!

What Does Yuzu Kosho Taste Like?

yuzu kosho in small bowl
yuzu kosho in small bowl - Nutria3000/Shutterstock

Yuzu kosho strikes the perfect balance between spicy, salty, and citrusy. Chilies and citrus have long been a popular complementary pair, as the tangy citrus flavor tempers the heat from the chilies while also highlighting their distinct spicy flavor. Furthermore, yuzu peel provides an even stronger citrus flavor than the juice, and the salt assists in further drawing out its essential oils. Consider, for example, the flavors of salt-preserved lemons.

The paste is thick, and it only takes a teaspoon or two to add a burst of citrus spice to anything you want to pair it with. The fermentation process further dissipates the heat in the chili peppers, so you get more vegetal notes of spice as opposed to heat from the capsaicin. So, it will add flavor and zing that even spice-averse eaters will enjoy. Yuzu kosho also has a unique salty and savory flavor from the salt and fermentation process. It may be a simple three-ingredient paste, but the depth of its flavors unfolds into an astonishing complexity that will give any dish a certain je ne sais quois.

How To Cook With Yuzu Kosho

close up of ramen
close up of ramen - j.chizhe/Shutterstock

Yuzu kosho isn't a stand-alone ingredient, but a versatile flavoring agent that you add to an endless variety of recipes. As a pre-made paste, it comes bursting with flavor that will only intensify the longer it sits in the fridge. You can mix it with liquids, spread it over meat, or add it to sweet recipes.

In Japan, yuzu kosho's traditional uses are as an additive to hot pot soups known as nabemono as well as a garnish for sashimi. However, as it gained popularity nationwide, its applications have expanded to include yakitori, miso soup, ramen, udon, and even flavored rice and sesame snacks. In the States, chefs have incorporated yuzu kosho into cross cultural cuisines; some add it to chicken piccata sauce for a burst of citrus and spice to pair with briny capers and savory chicken. You could add it to soy sauce or mayonnaise for a delicious dipping sauce or sandwich spread.

Other recipes turn yuzu kosho into a marinade, salad dressing, or spice rub for meat, fish, poultry, and tofu. It would taste delicious in a ginger miso or ranch dressing, or sprinkled over a bowl of peanut or sesame noodles. If you like the idea of adding spice to desserts, you could spice up some almond cookies, incorporate it into vanilla or lavender ice cream, or even make a simple syrup out of it to add to cocktails.

Where To Buy Yuzu Kosho

packaged food with japanese labels
packaged food with japanese labels - TY Lim/Shutterstock

As yuzu kosho gains notoriety, more and more brands are starting to produce and sell it. You can buy a jar of the paste at Asian markets in urban centers with large Asian populations. And if you don't live in a large city, you can find it online from Amazon. You'll see it offered in glass jars, tubes, cardboard packs, and pouches from various Japanese brands. Containers range in size from 1 to 18 ounces, and prices range from $5 to $35. Some brands even offer yuzu kosho sauces with oil and tamari.

Once you open a container of yuzu kosho, it needs to be refrigerated; it should last for around two months in the fridge. You could also freeze yuzu kosho for a longer shelf life of up to a year and a half. In most dishes, a little paste goes a long way, so even a small tube would render enough servings for a few meals or recipes.

Nutritional Information About Yuzu Kosho

nutrition facts of assorted food items
nutrition facts of assorted food items - Stillfx/Getty Images

Yuzu kosho is a low-calorie, fat-free condiment; some nutrition labels assert it has no calories at all. The paste contains a negligible amount of carbohydrates, with less than a gram of fiber per tablespoon. As salt is one of three primary ingredients, yuzu kosho contains around 300 milligrams of sodium per teaspoon.

Chili peppers and citrus are both considered healthful ingredients that supply beneficial micronutrients like potassium, vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron. Chili peppers are full of capsaicin, which is responsible for their heat and touted for improving blood circulation. That said, because you'll only ever use around a teaspoon to flavor a meal, any nutritional benefits or deficits are negligible. Overall, yuzu kosho is a healthy condiment that gets used in small enough doses for health risks to remain at a minimum despite its huge effects on the flavor of any dish.

Varietes Of Yuzu Kosho: Red And Green

red and green chili paste
red and green chili paste - Ariyani Tedjo/Shutterstock

Yuzu kosho comes in red and green pastes, but the green variety is more traditional and widespread. Both varieties use Thai chilies in different stages of their lifecycle; green chili peppers are young while red chili peppers are mature, leading to differences in flavor and heat levels. Young peppers have a more vegetal and bitter flavor, while red peppers have a rounder, more subtle pepper flavor and a hotter finish. Therefore, green yuzu kosho has a grassier, more pungent flavor that amps up the tartness of the fruit, while red yuzu kosho is smoother and juicier but with more pronounced heat at the finish.

Red yuzu kosho tends to have a little more liquid making it thinner and less coarse than green yuzu kosho paste. You can use them interchangeably, but they'll also enhance and complement flavors differently. Green yuzu kosho has a strong floral and vegetable flavor that works well with strong flavors like rich cuts of meat, miso broths, or creamy avocado dishes. Red yuzu kosho's heat would work well to counterbalance creamy pastas and peanut sauces, or drizzled over fried eggs.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.