Japanese citrus fruits, a centuries-old tradition

In the land of the rising sun, citrus fruits are part of a centuries-old tradition. Consumed fresh or accommodated in multiple ways in the kitchen, they have become a veritable institution that has given rise to multiple hybridizations often unknown outside of Japan.

Mandarinier (mandarine) Satsuma, Citrus reticulata subsp. Unshiu
Mandarinier (mandarine) Satsuma, Citrus reticulata subsp. Unshiu

Japan, marked terroirs

With five major islands and thousands more making up the archipelago of Japan, this country has very diversified terroirs to more or less marked climates.

The volcanic presence offers soils suitable for growing citrus fruits just like the seashores of the interior of Seto where very particular varieties grow.

Apart from a hundred Japanese varieties and new creations, most citrus fruits are mostly from Chinabut have been selected and hybridized over time to match Japanese taste and customs.

Very distinct categories

In Japan, citrus fruits are classified into 10 categories (Tanaka system) of which we will spare you all the names, which do not necessarily correspond to the international botanical classification and can be confusing.

The group ‘Mikan’ is the best known with the famous Satsuma Mandarins and their many varieties that are an integral part of Japanese culture. There is an art of peeling them, eating them, but also a mini variety named Comic which weighs no more than 30 g.

It can be eaten as a bite, it can also be used in the composition of seafood fondue, a specialty of Yamaguchi prefecture.

When grown in the volcanic soil of Kagoshima Prefecture it is called ‘Sakurajima komikan‘ from the name of the volcano. The smallest mandarin in the world is also used in the preparation of a very fruity gin appreciated in Japan.

Le Kishu (Citrus kinokuni) is also very small (2.5 to 4 cm in diameter), its skin is thin and easy to peel, the juicy and deliciously sweet flesh has very few seeds.

In Europe, this fruit is very rare but can occasionally be found under the trade name of ‘Cherry orange’.

Le Kabuchi (Citrus craft was. kabuchii) is endemic to the islands north of Okinawa.

The small fruit (55 gr.) with thick skin, is harvested green to preserve its acidity from September to November.

It is not a table fruit, its orange-yellow flesh containing pips is prized for making juices that will go into the composition of a gelatinous and slightly bitter lemonade. The essential oil is used in perfumery.

Le Ponkan (Citrus poonensis) is a round fruit the size of an orange 8 cm in diameter, known to be very sweet.

It is eaten fresh to enjoy its delicious flavor.

Le Natsumi is a mandarin resulting from the hybridization of many varieties, it is used in particular to make juices which the Japanese are fond of.

The group ‘Zakkan ‘ is interesting because it contains fruits only consumed in Japan and very late.

There we find the Kawachi bankan (Citrus kawachiensis) a very sweet, bitter-free summer grapefruit grown in Ehime and Kochi prefectures as well as Kumamoto prefecture.

L’Ogonkan or Chemistry (Citrus flaviculpus) also belongs to this group, it is a fruit 5 cm in diameter with a bright yellow skin, the pulp of which is very juicy and sweet with a sour note, just like the Hyuganatsu (Citrus tamarana), another late citrus fruit with a similar flavor. It is usually eaten sprinkled with sugar.

Le Sanbokan (Citrus sulcata) is often used to make juices whose sweet and slightly acidic freshness is very appreciated. It is also called ‘Sweet lemon’ and is distinguished by its prominent top part and its orange-yellow color.

It is harvested from March in Japan and is a perfect present.

The groupKōsankankitsu’ includes sour summer or autumn fruits including the famous Yuzu (Citrus x junos) used in cooking, in many derived products, but also to perfume baths in Japan. This citrus fruit, 6 to 8 cm in diameter with an irregular and thick skin, contains a very fragrant and fruity juice. You can try to cultivate it, because once well established, it resists temperatures of -12°C.

The famous Daidai (Citrus x equal) is a very bitter orange tree whose skin is used in traditional medicine and the juice in the making of the famous ponzu sauce.

In this group we also find the Sudachi (Citrus sudachi) which saw mass production in the previous century. The 4 cm diameter fruit is harvested green to take full advantage of its acidity and spicy flavors combining dill, pepper and cumin.

The juice is used in ponzu sauce, but also in cooking, especially with fish and shellfish dishes. Beers and sodas are also part of the festivities.

The zest enhances soba dishes, buckwheat noodles very popular in Japan.

hebesu (citrus heibei) is typical of this country, it is grown nowhere else.

Spherical and small in size (5 cm in diameter), Hébésu is harvested green in August.

Acidic, it includes the same culinary uses as Sudachi.

Le Kabosu (Citrus sphaerocarpa) also presents an acid and very fragrant juice, it is harvested green at the same time. The culinary uses of its juice are multiple, notably in condiments on sashimi or in the local pot au feu, but also in many pastries and ice creams. It is appreciated in cocktails, sodas and is used in the composition of certain beers.

Le In Shīkwasa (Citrus × quickly) originated from the Ryukyu Islands.

Its small diameter fruit (2 to 4 cm), flattened at its extremities, is harvested green from July to September. Its soft, somewhat gelatinous pulp contains an abundant, acidic and tasty juice, and numerous seeds.

This fruit is used in the composition of cocktails in the company of rice alcohol.

Its juice is marketed in bottles in Japan, it is commonly used as a condiment in various culinary preparations.

Le Hyuganatsu (Citrus tamurana) originates from the southernmost island of Kyūshū, which offers citrus fruits a climate subtropical and volcanic land. The spherical fruit, the size of an orange, has a light yellow skin hiding a very juicy and sweet pulp masking a slight sourness. It is eaten cut and sprinkled with sugar.

In the category Wendân found the Japanese pomelos (Citrus x maxima) of which the Banpeiyu (Citrus maxima ‘Banpeiyu’), un cultivar bearing huge fruits (up to 5 kg) keeping for several months. It is eaten fresh to take advantage of its flavor combining sweetness and slight acidity or in jelly and confit.

Hasty, the Buntan Crystal or Suishi buntanis a specialty of Kochi prefecture very often offered as a present.

This yellow-skinned grapefruit owes its name to its crystalline, juicy and slightly sweet pulp with a very refined flavor evoking a delicate orange taste with a hint of bitterness.

Le Zabon is a pomelo with bitter flesh and yellow skin.

This large fruit is usually used as an offering for religious ceremonies.

The peel is sometimes made into candied fruit in some provinces.

The category Tangōru includes Japanese tangors (hybridization between Citrus ×tangerine et Citrus sinensis) harvested in winter or early spring.

Among them, the famous Dekoponrecent production (1972), recognizable by its top bulge, its lumpy bright orange skin and the texture of its pulp which is both melting and crunchy in the mouth with a very refined taste.

This fruit which can reach a weight of 1 kg is traditionally consumed in Japan 40 days after its picking, it is then even tastier!

Le Kyomi can claim to be one of the first new generation tangor hybrids created in Japan (from 1949).

The smooth-skinned orange-yellow fruit resembles an orange.

Its pulp is delicately sweet and very tender in the mouth; to enjoy it, this fruit is eaten fresh.

L’Iokan or Iyo (Citrus and) is a hybrid natural grown mainly in southern Japan, which comes in many varieties including a red-skinned (‘Miyauchi Iyokan’) and one with shiny skin (‘Ōtani iyokan’).

With a size of 8 cm in diameter, the fruit, bright orange is difficult to peel but hides a very juicy flesh moderately sweet with a delicious flavor.

This citrus fruit can be consumed fresh, but also in juice.

Le Kanpei is even more recent (1991).

This winter fruit, 10 cm in diameter on average, grown in coastal areas, has a very thin bright orange skin and a spherical shape flattened at its poles.

Its seedless flesh offers a high sugar content.

This fruit is eaten fresh just like the Setoka obtained in 1984, grown on the shores of the Seto Inland Sea from which it takes its name.

Prized and expensive, this fruit resembles Kanpei in its characteristics. Its grated skin gives after maceration in shōchū flavored with various plants, the famous liquor of Setoka.

The group kinkan includes many varieties of kumquats (Citrus fortunella et C. japonica). Le Marumi presents small round and orange fruits with a balanced flavor between sweetness and acidity. It is bitten with its skin to appreciate the contrast between sweetness and acidity.

Rustic down to -10°C, this variety can be easily grown.

In the kitchen, Marumi is used in tagines, poultry dishes, but also in pastries and confectionery.

Le kumquat Nagami is also quite rustic. The oval, bright orange fruits have a sweet-tasting skin ideal for creating a surprising contrast with the tangy pulp when you bite into the fruit with your teeth.

In cooking, it is used in the same way as Marumi.


Source: Au Jardin, conseils en jardinage by www.aujardin.info.

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