While yuzu is often described as a Japanese lemon or citron, its flavors are quite different and lemon is not the most suitable substitution when making ponzu sauce. A yellow-orangish small fruit the size of a tangerine, the yuzu should be substituted with a mixture of lime and orange juice when making ponzu sauce to capture on the fruit's tangy, distinctive flavor.
Ponzu sauce is often used in Japanese cooking. Rice vinegar, sake, bonito fish flakes, seaweed and yuzu are the dominant components of this sauce that is used to marinate meats, fish and vegetables. Also used as a condiment, ponzu sauce is typically served alongside hot pot dishes such as shabu shabu and nabe as a dipping sauce. Combining salty, sweet, sour and bitter flavors all at once, the yuzu in ponzu sauce adds a certain level of complexity to it that cannot be achieved with lemon alone.
In the case of making ponzu sauce, the best substitution for the yuzu fruit is an equal mixture of lime juice and orange juice. This combination provides the best solution to the yuzu's tartness and sour tones. While lemon juice may work in a pinch, it does not offer the same complex flavor as yuzu. Another substitution when yuzu is unavailable is to simply increase the amount of rice vinegar in the ponzu sauce recipe to account for the missing yuzu juice.
Making Ponzu at Home
Most Asian grocers sell ponzu and you can also find it in the Asian section at major supermarkets. Buying ponzu sauce is easy, but making it at home is also straightforward. Add all the ingredients to a small saucepan and bring them to a boil. Immediately turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool. Store homemade ponzu sauce in the refrigerator for up to one week in a tightly sealed container.
It's rare to find fresh yuzu fruit in supermarkets outside of Japan, but other options are available to bring this flavor into your kitchen. If you enjoy making Japanese food, it is worth sourcing a bottle of yuzu juice or yuzu powder to make authentic-tasting dishes at home. Yuzu juice can be bought from Japanese specialty stores and online retailers. A bottle is rather expensive, but you only need a small amount and the bottle should last several months. Yuzu powder is another item that works to make ponzu sauce and is increasingly available at Asian grocers. While it may take some extra work finding these items, it is worth the effort, as the flavor of yuzu adds a zesty and memorable flavor to dishes.
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