10 April 2024

Mikan, Yuzu, and Beyond: Japan's Citrus Splendors

In the colorful world of Japanese citrus, each variety resonates with its own blend of tang, aroma, and allure, transcending their role as mere ingredients. These refreshing gems have become more than symbols of Japan's rich gastronomic artistry; they are deeply ingrained in the culture itself.

Embark on a journey through a slice of Japan's citrus landscape, where we'll explore four captivating members: mikan, banpeiyu, jabara, and yuzu. From their size to flavor, each will delight with its unique characteristics.


  • Mikan
  • Banpeiyu
  • Jabara
  • Yuzu


Mikan is the epitome of winter comfort. In the days of winter past, a common sight at Japanese homes used to be family members sitting at a kotatsu, a traditional Japanese heated table, each peeling and eating a mikan, fostering a sense of warmth and togetherness. Though advancements in cultivation techniques have made these fruits beloved all year round, their true season remains in the heart of winter.

The word "mikan" actually is a general term for small citrus fruits known for their easily peelable skins, capturing the essence of simplicity and pleasure. Astonishingly, Japan has 103 registered mikan varieties, each offering a distinct burst of flavor and heritage. Year by year, these varieties increase in number, sweetness, and fragrance, showcasing an endless evolution. Some premium varieties fetch a price as high as ¥2500 each.

Besides its natural delightfulness, mikan finds its way into various Japanese desserts as well. Mikan mochi has become quite the popular sweet treat and mikan-flavored jellies can be enjoyed throughout the year.
And an oldie-but-goodie favorite, frozen mikan!  Place a mikan in the freezer for a couple of hours, then let it thaw for several minutes, and you'll be treated to a sweet and tangy sherbet-like snack that's irresistibly refreshing.


Banpeiyu, a pomelo variety, is the gentle giant among Japanese citrus. A crown jewel of Kumamoto Prefecture's Yatsushiro region, it's recognized as one of the world's largest citrus fruit. Its journey to Yatsushiro started from the southeastern tip of Asia, near the Malay Peninsula, making its way to Japan during the Taisho era (1912 CE - 1926 CE) via Vietnam and Taiwan. 

The banpeiyu proudly graces store shelves, often packaged in bags adorned with the iconic Kumamon, beloved mascot of Kumamoto Prefecture. Renowned for its elegant fragrance and substantial segments, this citrus boasts a crispy texture and lower juice content. Its enduring shelf life and sun-kissed appearance make it a sought-after decorative item, particularly cherished in Yatsushiro as a harbinger of New Year's prosperity.

Navigating its thick skin can be a bit of an adventure, but local wisdom suggests slicing along the curvature of the fruit, making peeling much simpler. Aim for about a 2-centimeter (0.8 in) depth with your cuts to avoid damaging the precious wedges inside. And think twice before discarding the peel and pith; these parts can be transformed into a delectable candied treat.

Ending our banpeiyu journey is some citrus trivia.
In mid-January 2023, Maeda Kazuki from Toyomachi clinched the gold prize in the Jumbo Banpeiyu Category at a local competition. He shattered his own Guinness World Record from 2021 for the heaviest pomelo worldwide with a banpeiyu weighing an astonishing 5,550 g (12.4 lbs). 


In the quaint mountain village of Kitayama in Wakayama Prefecture, the jabara has been a curious citrus fruit growing wild for ages, not quite yuzu, not quite mikan, but something entirely distinct. The name jabara, written in Japanese characters, translates to "chase away demons," hinting at its potent sourness thought to repel even evil spirits. It has been locally revered both as a natural vinegar for dressings, sauces and as an indispensable lucky charm in New Year's dishes, embodying the essence of its name.

Jabara's journey is quite the tale. With just one jabara tree left, a forward-thinking villager saw its potential as the village's claim to fame and kicked off its cultivation. As it turns out, jabara was found to be a natural hybrid of yuzu, Kishu mikan, and another citrus, which dated back to the Edo period (1603 CE - 1868 CE). Truly, a rare tang found nowhere else.

The skin of jabara boasts a very high concentration of narirutin, a component prevalent in all citrus fruits that has been attracting attention for its anti-allergic potential. As a result, during the peak of the allergy season in Japan, jabara candies increasingly fill the shelves of stores, marking it a promising new ally for those battling seasonal sniffles.


Saving the most well-known for last. Yuzu, originally hailing from China, has woven itself into the fabric of Japanese culture since the Nara period (710 CE - 794 CE). Starting off firm with a lush green color in early summer, the yuzu transitions to a plump appearance in a vibrant yellow hue in winter. When fully ripe, yuzu entails the refreshing tartness of a lemon with some sweetness and a slight bitterness. Its aromatic peel is laden with a higher concentration of vitamin C than the fruit itself.

This tart jewel is rarely eaten as a fruit, but is treasured for its zest and juice. Even a small slice of its peel can elevate the flavors of a delicate dashi soup, while its grated zest can add a fresh lightness to stewed vegetables in the summer.

Yuzu's fragrant essence shines in ponzu, where it melds with soy sauce in a perfect harmony of flavors. Equally beloved is yuzu kosho, a zesty condiment that adds a tasty kick to pork shabu-shabu. These two yuzu staples enhance the warmth and depth of donabe dishes, making them cherished in Japanese cuisine.

Yuzu's influence extends far beyond the confines of traditional Japanese cuisine, captivating international chefs with its wonderful aroma and taste. In 2011, a village in Kochi Prefecture, the yuzu capital of Japan, turned its gaze to France, hosting a yuzu tasting event that charmed French chefs. The following year, one third of the village's yuzu harvest was exported to over 20 countries. Now, yuzu has become widely popular in global kitchens and is incorporated in an array of dishes, from avant-garde sauces to innovative desserts. 

Yuzu also plays a significant role in wellness traditions, notably in the winter solstice yuzu baths. Delve deeper into this centuries-old tradition by reading our blog post Celebrating Toji: The Winter Solstice in Japanese Culture.

Peeling back the layers of each citrus marvel, we're reminded of the vibrancy and zest these fruits bring, from the cozy warmth of mikan to the refreshing zing of yuzu. But don't let the citrus sun set just yet; there's always another flavor adventure waiting just around the corner. Our next exploration promises to be just as tantalizing, inviting you to continue a voyage through the diverse flavors of Japan.