Grocery Ninja: Yujacha, Korean Yuzu Tea
The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read all her mission reports here.
Before I moved to the Bay Area (land of Ranch 99 and accessible Asian foodstuffs), I used to cart heavy glass jars of yucheong (yuzu syrup) on the 24 hour flight back from Asia. My friends would save their luggage space for practical things like textbooks (usually one-third the price of what you would pay here). But I would splurge all my luggage space on jars of this golden goodness. Because when the days are long and dreary, and when it seems like the weekend will never arrive, and that the work keeps piling up, nothing in the world is better than a steaming mug of yujacha (yuzu tea made from dissolving yucheong in hot water).
Believed to be the hybrid of the sour mandarin and the Ichang lemon, the yuzu is a golf ball-sized citrus fruit. It originated from China, but today is most widely cultivated in Korea and Japan, and was first smuggled into California in 1888 by homesick Japanese-Americans. It has been described as tasting of limes, lemons, and grapefruit—all at once—but that description strikes me as clothing a beautiful woman in a coarse potato sack.
When you are presented with a cup of yujacha, it's the scent that hits you first. An unmistakable, inimitable, floral-fruity spiciness rushes up your nose, clearing your sinuses and thoughts. The first sip lingers on your palate—its flavor warm and full—inviting you to take the next sip, and another, and before you know it, your day isn't going too badly after all.
To make yucheong, yuzu are peeled and pithed. The peel is thinly sliced, the pith is discarded, and the remaining fruit is cut into two or three sections. The peel is then alternately layered with pulp and sugar and left at room temperature till the sugar dissolves. At this point, the yucheong is stored in the fridge for a week before it's ready to be used—for tea (excellent when nursing a cold), in baking, or simply as a breakfast spread. (Or you could just, you know, go and pick it up from Ranch 99.)
Besides yucheong, yuzu also appears in yuzu miso, yuzu kosho (yuzu rinds ground with hot peppers and salt), yuzu vinegar, yuzu dust (dried, powdered yuzu rinds), and in salad and soba dressings (usually soy sauce or dashi-based). I spend a heinous amount of money on yuzu-things (including body moisturizer and shower gel), and am resolved: When I grow up, I will have a yuzu tree in my backyard. It will be my own, personal, gloriously selfish stash of yuzu. And it is so that I will be able to do this: