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Japanese Cooking: What is Ponzu?

Ponzu is a sauce that you can use to flavour to your Japanese cooking. Having tried ponzu for the first time, I wanted to share it with you – I didn’t know much about this ingredient, but I’m glad I discovered it!

The ponzu sauce is from The Wasabi Company, who grow and sell fresh wasabi here in the UK. I’ve bought several products from them (both recommended!):

Fresh wasabi – watch my video about trying fresh wasabi for the first time.
Wasabi powder – read my review – This is now an essential for Sushi Saturday!

The Wasabi Company saw my reviews and very kindly sent me some samples of their fresh yuzu ponzus to try. They’ve expanded their range beyond wasabi, bringing a whole range of high quality Japanese ingredients to the UK.

Ponzu

Sudachi kombu ponzu

What is Ponzu?

To completely honest, I wasn’t familiar with what ponzu is, so this was something new for me! It’s one of those ingredients that I’ve probably had in Japanese food in restaurants, but not known the name of.

Ponzu sauces are made of citrus juice, blended with other ingredients including shoyu, stock and mirin. The Wasabi Company’s range includes various ponzu sauces, fresh citrus juices and fermented vinegars. The vinegars are made using traditional Japanese methods, and aged for up to 500 days.

Sudachi Kombu Ponzu

My favourite of the range is the sudachi kombu ponzu. It looks similar to soy sauce, but more translucent, with a mid brown colour and similar liquid consistency, but with a much fresher taste. The most similar flavour I can compare it to is soy sauce mixed with yuzu – yuzu is citrus, with a clear, strong, fragrant taste. If I had to compare it to a western citrus, it’s most similar to lemon. Ponzu has a much cleaner, brighter taste than soy sauce, and in comparison soy sauce seems muddy.

Umami Flavour

I learnt about umami from Michael Booth’s excellent book Sushi and Beyond, which describes elements of Japanese cooking through a trip to Japan with his family. If you’re interested in Japanese food, you’ll definitely enjoy it! Umami is a flavour category like sweet, savoury or spicy. Its characteristics are savoury, satisfying, almost “meaty” flavours. Examples of umami are soy sauce and miso soup, as well as the rich Italian tomato and cheese combination. And ponzu most definitely has umami flavour.

Japanese Ponzu

Kombu ponzu – dipping sauce for sushi

How to use Ponzu

I tried the kombu ponzu in several ways before finding my favourite:

  • Sauce for fried noodles
  • Dressing for cold noodle salad with leftover noodles, peppers and cucumber
  • Marinade for tofu
  • Dipping sauce for gyoza

Out of these, I preferred the noodle salad – the fresh taste of the ponzu seemed to complement cold food best. I don’t think it worked so well with the gyoza, because they have their own strong flavour. Then, I found my favourite…

If you’ve been following Cakes with Faces, you’ll know that whenever we’re free at the weekend we spend the evening making sushi (Sushi Saturday!). It’s a great way to spend time together, or with friends, and we just love having a sushi feast at the end of it! If you want to give it a try, my How to Make Sushi comic book has all the instructions you need to make your own sushi at home.

I usually enjoy sushi with just wasabi. When I first tried sushi I drowned it in soy sauce, but as time went on I used less and less, and now I prefer not to have any at all. In fact, in Japan some sushi chefs consider it an insult if you add lots of soy sauce – it’s a bit like covering your meal in ketchup! However, with ponzu I’ve found a new favourite dipping sauce for sushi. The clean taste goes really well, especially with kappamaki (cucumber rolls). I liked it so much that I’ve bought a whole bottle of the konbu ponzu, just for Sushi Saturdays.

Ponzu from The Wasabi Company, UK

Champonzu mixed citrus ponzu sauce

Other Ponzu Sauces

Several of the other sauces in the range contain dashi (fish stock). As a vegetarian I couldn’t try them all, so I relied on my non-vegetarian friends to try them out for you. We had a feast of grilled meat, fish and vegetables with rice (I’d love to say I made all this but it wasn’t my cooking, I just brought the sauce!). Here’s the verdict:

The universal favourite was the dashi vinegar, which has a smoky taste that goes well with beef, and would be good marinade. The strong, piercing flavour of yuzu juice goes well with salmon (vegetarians: the yuzu juice contains dashi fish stock). Champonzu was a good accompaniment for katsu, especially the courgette. Everyone agreed that the kombu (vegetarian) ponzu had a fresher taste than the ponzus containing dashi. Sake vinegar (also vegetarian) mixed with soy sauce makes a great dipping sauce for gyoza.

Level up your Japanese Cooking

These are high quality sauces from Japan, and are a good way to try some new flavours for your Japanese meals at home. They are more pricey than your average sauces from the high street, but they’re made to a high standard, using premium ingredients, and imported from Japan. I’d certainly recommend the kombu ponzu, and have found that the bottle is a generous amount that lasts a long time. And if you enjoy sushi and haven’t tried fresh wasabi, it’s definitely something you should try at least once!

If you’re interested in Japanese cooking, I’m working on a sequel to How to Make Sushi. It’s a recipe comic book about how to make other Japanese meals easily at home. It’ll be out later this year – keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter for updates!

Fresh yuzu juice

Fresh yuzu juice