This Fruit Is Illegal In the U.S. – Here’s How You Can Still Taste It
You can buy yuja (a.k.a. yuzu) by the jar.
In the winter, I like to curl up on the couch and make myself a warm, comforting cup of yuja-cha (often translated to “citron tea” in English, although the tea is not made with citron). But unlike many teas, there are no tea bags or leaves involved. Instead, there’s a big glass jar, filled with bright yellow citrus rinds, suspended in a thick, golden goop. I scoop up a spoon or two into a mug, and fill it with hot water. And in seconds, the marmalade dissolves into a swirl and I’ve got a cup that brings joy to even the coldest winter nights.
Yuja-cha is a traditional Korean tea made with yuja (also known as yuzu in Japanese), a hybrid citrus that’s a cross between a mandarin and ichang papeda, a hardy lemon-scented fruit. You’d be hard-pressed to find fresh yuja in the U.S. – the prized China-native is illegal to import into the country, although some trees grow along the California coast – but it’s known to smell wonderful. There isn’t much juice in the fruit – and the small amount that’s there is overwhelmingly sour. Its lumpy rind, on the other hand, is full of aromatic oils and carries a distinct floral, sweet-yet-tart flavor – the flavor you can find in yuja-cha.
I’ve stolen tastes of yuzu in desserts – but never as a fresh fruit – in a few restaurants and dessert parlors in New York. And when I started drinking yuja-cha a few years ago, I immediately recognized the light, bright flavor. Tasting yuzu is like tasting heaven. Once you try it, you never forget it.
Luckily, yuja in the form of marmalade is totally legal, and is readily available for purchase. And unlike the fresh fruits that sometimes get smuggled to restaurants and specialty grocery stores (fresh yuzu can go for 15 to 20 dollars a pound, according to The New Yorker), jars of yuja-cha are not “staggeringly expensive.”
The caffeine-free tea is traditionally served hot and is often had as a cold remedy. If you can one day get your hands on fresh yuja, the marmalade can be made from scratch with sugar and rinds and can last for months. But if you can’t, I find the readymade jars, usually sweetened with honey instead, a delicious alternative.
One of the best parts about yuja marmalade is how versatile it can be. This summer, I started mixing a few spoonfuls of it with seltzer, for a refreshing (and addictive) summer drink – a cross somewhere between a lemon- and orangeade. Frances Kim, digital programming manager of Food Network Kitchen, suggests stirring it into cocktails, especially ones with gin. Plus, the marmalade can be used as, well, marmalade. Spread it on pastries, drop it into thumbprint cookies or simply spoon over ice cream or shaved ice.
Tasting fresh yuja might require a bit of travelling (one day) and careful planning (the season is in late fall), but until then – a jar of yuja-cha is the not-too-shabby option that can be delivered straight to your doorstep.