Yuzu is one of my favourite kinds of fruit. In the UK this distinctive citrus fruit is strongly associated with Japan, which is where I first encountered it during our holidays there. As the popularity of Japanese cuisine has grown in the UK, so too has awareness and appreciation of yuzu fruit; indeed it’s English-language name is lifted directly from the Japanese name. But yuzu is also very popular in Korea, where the fruit is known as yuja.
Yuzu originated as a wild-growing citrus in central China, and it spread to Korea sometime during the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 AD) before making it across the sea to Japan. Today, yuzu is grown in numerous places around the world including Korea, Japan, Australia and south western Europe.
In South Korea, one of the most common ways of using the fruit is in yuja-cha (‘yuzu tea’, a slight misnomer in that this popular drink doesn’t include tea leaves). Yuja-cha is made by stirring in a few generous teaspoons of ready-made yuzu preserve into boiling water to create a delicious sweet drink. In summer, iced yuja-ade is often enjoyed instead.
Yuja-cha, often labelled in English as ‘citron tea’, is essentially a marmalade made from yuzu fruit and sugar. Like other marmalades, yuja-cha contains chopped peel as well as the flesh and juice of the fruit, and the jars are sold in most supermarkets and grocery shops across Korea. It’s also exported all around the world.
Other ways you use yuja-cha is to make a vibrant yuzu dressing for salads or vegetables, or a quick and easy yuzu ice cream.
During our recent trip to South Korea, we had the opportunity to visit Goheung, a county in Jeollonam Province. Goheung farmers grow more than 60% of South Korea’s total yuzu production, much of it turned into yuja-cha and other food, drink and beauty products. Goheung’s sea breezes combined with a humid, subtropical climate provide perfect conditions for the cultivation of high quality yuzu.
At Duwon Agricultural Cooperative, we were given a tour of the yuja-cha production factory by General Manager Song Chung Gyeong. The plant had very recently been upgraded to increase capacity and speed, and we were shown around the shiny new processing areas to see the creation of yuja-cha in action. During the harvest season, fresh yuzu comes in from around 800 local farmers and is sorted, washed and sliced. Sugar is added, and at this stage it can be frozen for processing throughout the year. The sugared mix is carefully sorted to remove any foreign materials before it’s heated to transform it into jam, and filled into jars. Once capped the jars are heat-sterilised, cooled down, and dried before labels are added. The cooperative sells under a variety of brands, so the labelling varies accordingly. Finally, the yuja-cha is quality tested before being packed into boxes for distribution and sale.
The Cooperative gives local farmers a stable income, since they know they can sell the fruit they grow for a fair price.
Duwon Agricultural Cooperative also make other preserved fruit products including ginger tea, quince tea, jujube tea and aloe tea. South Koreans believe that yuzu can help prevent colds, improve skin condition, activate the metabolism, aid digestion, and relieve fatigue, thus Duwon also makes a range of health products in which yuzu is combined with collagen or lactic acid bacteria.
Overseas tourism is still relatively rare in Goheung, but it’s a beautiful area to visit, especially if you hire a rental car to self-drive the region. There are national parks and recreation forests, small towns and fishing ports, beautiful coastlines and beaches, and local museums. Indeed, we enjoyed a short visit to the Buncheong Culture Museum in Goheung, which focuses on the history of local Buncheong Ware pottery within the context of local history and culture.
With many thanks to Mr. Sin Min Ho and Ms. Jeong Kyeong from the Goheung County Office for hosting our visit to Goheung. Thanks to Mr. Song Chung-Gyeong of Duwon Agricultural Cooperative for giving us the factory tour. Thanks also to Mr. Kyeong Hee Lee (Vivian) of Mopko National University’s International Tea Culture and Industry Institute for her time at the Buncheong Culture Museum.