Yuzu kosho is one of my favorite condiments ever. It’s a citrus explosion that adds a spicy, zesty zing to your Japanese dish. You can buy a jar of it or it's easy to make your own. 3 simple ingredients.Jump to Recipe
What is yuzu kosho paste?
In Bon Appétit magazine, it's been described as the "secret weapon condiment chefs are putting on everything".
Maybe that's bit of an overstatement. But it does pack a real punch of medium heat citrusy flavor.
Originally, it comes from Kyushu. You would see plenty of it on sale for tourists at Hakata Station in Fukuoka.
While famous for being from Kyushu, you can still buy some at any supermarket in Tokyo.
Yuzu kosho is a Japanese paste made from fresh yuzu fruit in the fall. It's most often made from unripened, green yuzu.
The spicy paste gets it kick from fresh chili peppers.
Yuzu is a fragrant citrus fruit, similar to a lemon or lime. In English, it's called citron.
Originally, it comes from China and is popular in Korea as well.
In Japan, a small amount of yuzu kosho is served on the side of yakitori or grilled chicken. A little bit goes a long way.
It's sometimes added to hot pots, soup, or ramen to add a citrusy kick.
I recommend trying it with grilled meats like steak, short ribs, and chicken breasts. In Japan, it's also paired with some sashimi, but it really depends on what kind of fish.
The sushi chef or server will almost always inform you which goes with yuzu kosho.
Outside of Japan, it's also used as a marinade for meat or fish. Try mixing with olive oil and vinegar to make salad dressing.
What's the difference between red and green yuzu kosho?
The color of yuzu kosho depends on the color of the yuzu and togarashi peppers.
At the supermarket in Japan, I typically see green yuzu kosho. It's made from green yuzu, early in the growing season. The green citrus zests is blended with green chili peppers and a squeeze of juice.
The other variety, red yuzu kosho, gets its color from red chiles. For this version, fresh peel from ripe yellow yuzu is used.
For my homemade version, I made green yuzu kosho. I love both equally. The taste and spiciness is about the same.
I just used what was available at the UN farmers market in Aoyama.
What does yuzu kosho taste like?
Its flavor profile is a mix of sour citrus from the yuzu, spiciness from the green chili peppers, and salty from sea salt. Even in Japan, it's a unique combination of flavors.
If you can imagine lemon zest or lime juice with a little added spiciness and salt, that's yuzu kosho.
Japanese citrus chili paste is almost more like a Mexican flavor, like a margarita or salsa with fresh lime wedge squeezed on top.
Is yuzu kosho spicy?
I find that store-bought yuzu kosho has a standard level of spiciness. It's not spicy like a Mexican hot sauce, a kimchi jjigae hot pot in Korea, or an authentic, fiery hot Thai papaya salad. It's more on par with fresh ginger paste that goes with sushi, a horseradish mustard, or wasabi.
My homemade version has a comparable level of spiciness to what you can buy. If you're making it yourself, of course you can add fewer peppers to adjust to your tolerance for heat.
The spiciness isn't overpowering like some hot sauces. It adds a depth of flavor to the citrusy zest and saltiness.
Don't get me wrong. It is potent paste with a zing! An amount that would not cover the tip of your pinky should do the trick. If you are adding it to soup or a hot pot, I would start with a little. Then, gradually add more until the amount of the yuzu kosho is just right.
What is yuzu kosho made of?
Yuzu kosho is made from three simple ingredients:
1. Yuzu - (called citron in English) It's a common citrus fruit in East Asian countries: Japan, China, and Korea. It's still a rare find in the Western world but it’s possible to find fresh yuzu in countries like the United States and Australia.
Both yuzu juice and the peel are used to make kosho.
2. Togarashi - spicy green or red chili peppers.
3. Sea salt- I used my favorite, Maldon Sea Salt. You can also try using kosher salt, which won't contain additives such as iodine or fluoride.
Kitchen tools needed to make yuzu kosho
- Knife- I use a sharp chef’s knife to split open and chop the togarashi peppers into small pieces before using the mortar and pestle.
- Microplane (Zester) - You’ll need a tool to remove the peel safely. If you don’t own a zester, you can try a regular vegetable peeler or knife. A decent microplane ($15- $16) is a worthwhile investment to save time zesting and your fingers!
- Kitchen scale- As your yuzu and togarashi peppers will vary in size, using a scale is the best way to get the proportions right.
- Cutting board - wooden or plastic
- Suribashi (Japanese grooved mortar and pestle) - after finely chopping the yuzu peel and togarashi peppers, you can use a mortal and pestle to grind the ingredients together. Note: It may be hard to remove the strong flavor from the togarashi pepper from the grooves. I don’t own a food processor and I find it satisfying to make it the traditional way.
- Food processor - This is a fast, easier way to blend the ingredients. I tried using my Ninja blender but found it didn’t chop the peppers enough.
- Storage container or jar - I recommend a small glass jar with a screw-on top. Beforehand, I sterilize the jar and lid in boiling hot water.
- 30 grams fresh yuzu zest green (or yellow) about 8 to 10 small yuzu
- 30 grams togarashi peppers green (or red) about 12 - 14 peppers
- 5 grams sea salt about 12- 15% of weight of peel and peppers
- Wash off yuzu with water and pat dry with clean towel.
- Use a microplane zester to remove the yuzu peel.
- Save the yuzu you zested for squeezing later.
Togarashi (Spicy Peppers)
- Put on some plastic disposable gloves before cutting the peppers.
- Cut off the stems of the togarashi.
- Slit the togarashi peppers lengthwise to split them in half.
- Remove the seeds and white pith with a spoon or just your finger (with gloves on).
- Finely mince the peppers with a sharp knife or food processor.
- Combine the zest of yuzu peel and togarashi peppers.
- Blend together using a suribachi (Japanese mortal and pestle) or food processor.
- Add salt and blend until the salt crystals are no longer visible.
- Add a few drops of yuzu juice.
- Store your yuzu kosho in sterilized glass jars and keep refrigerated.
- You can use it fresh or let the ingredient ferment for a week in the refrigerator.
Where to buy yuzu
You may have some luck finding fresh yuzu fruit at Japanese supermarkets such as Mitsuwa and Nijiya Market, if it's in season.
From what I've read, there are yuzu growers in the U.S., Australia, and in the U.K.
If you don't have access to Japanese citrus fruit, which is likely, I recommend trying lemon or lime zest.
Why not even experiment with grapefruit zest? I can imagine each citrus fruit making a paste with its own distinctive flavor.
Let me know how it goes!
If you've never tried yuzu kosho, I'd recommend buying a bottle that's made in Japan.
Once you know what authentic yuzu tastes like, then you can start experimenting with making your own.
Where to buy yuzu kosho
Another option if you are yuzu-less is store-bought yuzu kosho.
You should be able to find yuzu kosho easily at most Japanese markets outside of Japan.
There's a good chance you won't be able to find at an Asian food store that is more focused on Korean or Chinese ingredients.
It looks like Whole Foods carries a yuzu sauce, but this is different than yuzu kosho.
Buy yuzu kosho online
You can also order both green and red yuzu kosho online.
Amazon carries this brand of authentic red and green yuzu kosho. It's just pricey.
This is a more affordable choice. You can find this brand of condiments at practically every supermarket in Japan.
What is yuzu kosho used for?
From my experience, yuzu kosho is usually used as a condiment to go with grilled meat or fish. The second most popular use is adding it as a citrusy accent to hot pots or soups.
Chefs outside of Japan got creative. I found some recipes for using it as a marinade and salad dressing.
This is more Japanese fusion cooking, not traditional Japanese.
These are some recipes that go well with yuzu kosho:
- Yakitori by Just One Cookbook
- Hot Pot Nabe by Pickled Plum
- Miso soup by Just One Cookbook
- Mizutaki (hot pot) by Just One Cookbook
- Chicken marinade on Epicurious
- Salad Dressing by All Day I Eat
- Grilled Short Ribs by Food Network
- Sashimi (traditionally, only with specific fish)
- Grilled, Poached, or Seared Salmon by Lowcarbing Asian
- Soba (or udon noodles) by eyesandhour
- Oden by Just One Cookbook
- Somen by Pickled Plum
- Hiyako Tofu by Pickled Plum
According to one of the main yuzu kosho brands in Japan, it also goes well with pasta and fried rice.
How to store yuzu kosho
Once you open a store-bought jar or tube of yuzu kosho paste, put it in the refrigerator.
I keep my homemade yuzu kosho in a small glass jar with a screw-top lid.
Sterilize the glass jar before putting the freshly made yuzu kosho inside.
Make sure to use a clean spoon each time you take some of the yuzu kosho from the jar. Wipe the lid clean before putting it back on the jar.
How long does yuzu kosho last?
Today when I was grocery shopping, I checked out all the expiration dates. I live in Tokyo.
Yuzu kosho from the supermarket lasts a long time in the fridge. Out of the three jars and one tube I looked at, the expiration was 5 months to 10 months.
Even the one that lasts 10 months contained no preservatives.
My homemade version can also last for a long time in the refrigerator, up to three months. Though, I would use up in a few weeks.
Since it's simple to make, I just make small batches whenever I get my hands on organic yuzu.
To keep it longer, you can put it in the freezer for up to a year.
What can I substitute for yuzu kosho (柚子こしょう) ?
This is a tough one to answer since it's such a unique tasting condiment.
These are the other condiments that typically go with grilled sasami yakitori:
- Japanese mayonnaise with mentaiko (spicy cod roe)
- pickled plum sauce with shiso leaves
- nori seaweed
Karashi mustard, wasabi, ginger paste, lemon slices, and shichimi also common flavors that go with Japanese-style grilled meats.
Note: If you are unable to get your hands on yuzu or togarashi peppers, I suggest some alternative ingredients below.
Before making your own yuzu kosho, you may want to order a bottle on the internet before you try to replicate the taste with local ingredients where you live.
Substitutes for yuzu (柚子)
Other varieties of citrus are worth a try. I haven't tried them out personally.
These are the ones I noticed at the supermarket today: lemons, limes, unripe green lemons (available in Japan), mikan (Mandarin oranges), and sudachi, which is another green citrus fruit.
You could also try: meyer lemons, grapefruit, citron, or orange.
Substitutes for togarashi (唐辛子), Japanese spicy peppers
You want to use a hot chili, not like a bell pepper (also called paprika or capsicum).
Most of Japan's green chili peppers, like ao togarashi, are relatively mild.
You can choose a spicier variety of pepper if want to make yuzu kosho that will shoot flames from your nostrils.
Thai chiles, also called bird's eye chili would be a good alternative. Chiles used in Mexican cooking are other options to try: Serrano chili or jalapeño.
Remove the stem, seeds, and as much of the white pith as possible.
Still have some extra yuzu leftover?
Try out this recipe: