Translated by Allie
Ponzu - Japanese Encyclopedia
Written by ニコ
Ponzu is an all-purpose condiment used in Japanese cuisine. This article introduces the features of ponzu, from what it tastes like to places where you can get to taste it fresh and even the recipe to make it at home!
What is Ponzu?
Ponzu is a Japanese condiment made from citrus juice such as lemon, lime and yuzu (Japanese citrus fruit) and vinegar, which ensures that the ponzu last longer. Ponzu doesn’t contain oil, which makes it the best condiment for health-conscious people.
There are various stories about the origin of the name "ponzu". Among all, the most popular one is that the Dutch word pons, meaning citrus juice, was changed to "ponzu" in which "su" ("zu") means "vinegar".
In Japan, many dishes made with vinegar were created in the
Edo period. Ponzu was also spread all over Japan and started being used in home cooking along with other types of vinegar. It's surprising to know that the name of one of the representative condiments in Japanese cuisine comes from a foreign word, isn’t it?
What Does Ponzu Taste Like?
Unlike other brewed vinegar types, the charm of ponzu is its
mild sour taste and
refreshing scent, as it is made using citrus juice. Moreover, ponzu enhances the flavor of food.
Although various ingredients could be used for making ponzu, the most suitable ones are Japanese citrus fruit such as yuzu, kabosu, sudachi and daidai. As you can see, there is a wide range of citrus fruit found only in Japan. This is one of the factors that lead to the creations of this unique condiment called ponzu.
It can be hard to find ponzu on the market because it is sold during limited periods of time of year and only in specific areas. But actually you can easily make it by yourself using lemons and grapefruit. You can also make your own recipe based on your taste. The type of citrus fruit you use will influence the degree of sourness and the aroma, an this is one of the fun things about making your own ponzu.
Ponzu mixed with soy sauce or dashi stock (*1) is also available, although ponzu with soy sauce is also commonly called just ponzu.
*1: Dashi is a soup stock made with kombu (kelp) or bonito.
Dishes Served With Ponzu
Ponzu is served with various dishes, for example as a dipping sauce for hotpot cuisine such as shabu-shabu, a topping sauce for sashimi (fresh raw fish sliced into thin pieces), tataki (meat or fish steak served slightly seared), tofu dishes and grilled fish, or as dressing for salads.
Oroshi ponzu, which is ponzu mixed with grated daikon radish is also popular, commonly served as a sauce of hamburger steak (Salisbury steak dish in Japan). Ponzu makes these dishes refreshing and light which is really good during the summer when one doesn’t have much appetite.
In addition, since ponzu contains citric acid which helps relieving exhaustion, it will be the best ingredient to eat when tired or when you're suffering from heat illness.
Regions Where Ponzu Is Produced
The most common ingredient needed to make ponzu is yuzu. The area with the largest yuzu production is Kochi prefecture which is located in a warm area, about one hour and 20 minutes by airplane from Tokyo. A wide range of ponzu types are produced in Kochi and you will definitely find your favorite one.
Katsuo tataki, or seared bonito (shown in the picture above), which is Kochi’s representative dish, really goes well with ponzu. There are several places serving katsuo tataki within Kochi prefecture. If you want to get to taste authentic ponzu, how about traveling to Kochi prefecture?
It will be fun to buy a bottle of ponzu as a souvenir and cook Japanese food back home. Ponzu is a really important condiment in Japanese cooking. Please try it out and cook various dishes with it. Ponzu will make your dish taste better even if you add just a little amount.