Yuzu - a fruit like a bumpy lemon - is highly regarded in Japanese cuisine, but a New Zealand grower is finding it easier to sell to entrepreneurial Kiwis putting it in beer and olive oil.
Growers in Australia are making a pretty penny selling the fruit overseas, but Yuzuco NZ director Neville Chun says he's focused closer to home.
“About 2009, my wife is Japanese and she wanted me to source yuzu - which I didn’t know either, what it was - but I did eventually find some plants in an old citrus nursery.
“They had some listed under ornamental citrus, they didn’t even know what they were for, so I contacted them and they said ‘you can have the lot because they’re just prickly old things, they’re sour fruit, we don’t know what to do with them’.
“And they became the mother stock for our orchard.
He says the orchard in Horowhenua has about 500 trees, and is fairly well placed for growing the fruit which is fairly hardy and just needs to be protected from the cold.
It’s not easy to grow, however, and requires a bit on maintenance.
“It’s a very sharp, thorny tree and it it takes a lot of patience to harvest from it, the fruit’s very fragile so the fruit marks very easy so you have to be very careful with picking it,
“And also the thorns on the tree itself tend to scratch the fruit.
The fruit itself is also not like the citrus most New Zealanders will be used to.
“It’s a funny fruit because you cut it open and there’s no flesh to speak of that you eat, so all the main components of yuzu are a highly aromatic, thick, soft peel and the acidic juice.
“Really aromatic, it’s got a fragrance probably a combination of grapefruit, mandarin, lemon.
“You’ve got to separate those products and use them in whatever you want to make.”
He says in Japan the fruit is used for all sorts of food - savoury or sweet - soups, drinks, desserts, “and they bathe in it as well.”
“We thought, well, with the Japanese connections we could export our fruit to Japan on their off season, but it took so long for us to get the trees up to a commercial cropping yield state that we ran out of energy.”
However, there was some interest back home. He says he was contacted by Pete Gillespie from Wellington craft beer company Garage Project.
“He’s told me he said ‘well, ‘I brew beer in a garage’ and I thought ‘ah yeah, that’s interesting’, so he said ‘let me know when you’ve got some furit and I’d like to brew a beer out of it’.
“Three years later I’d completely forgot about it, but he rang me up and asked if I’ve got any yuzu fruit, and he was one of our first commercial customers.
He says Lot 8 olive oil had also got in touch after a chef had contacted them looking for yuzu olive oil.
“For Makoto from Cocoro, a restaurant in Auckland … she didn’t know what yuzu was so she did some searching and finally found us.
“So we supplied her and now it’s one of her flagship blends, yuzu olive oil, first in the world.”
He recommended trying it in a yuzu tea.
“Sliced yuzu peel mixed with sugar and nothing else, and left to meld together for several months in the fridge, and it’s just gorgeous.
“Making sodas, dressing ice cream, putting on cakes or pavlovas. And it lasts a long time too.“