Add an unexpected zest to your favourite Japanese foods.

Most people are likely familiar with Japanese condiments and flavourful seasonings like soy sauce, wasabi paste and teriyaki. And just like here in the West, mayonnaise is also enjoyed throughout Japan. Some may even have tried a delicious but mysterious citrus-flavoured sauce that sometimes arrives next to your meal at a Japanese restaurant. This lesser-known seasoning is the unsung hero of a number of Japanese culinary delights: ponzu.

Ponzu appeared on the Japanese food scene centuries ago, when Japan was still closed to the rest of the world but was exclusively engaged in trade with the Dutch. Part of the name ponzu comes from the Dutch word pons, meaning “punch,” with the other part coming from the Japanese word su, meaning “vinegar.” However, the Dutch influence stops with the naming of this flavourful sauce. Ponzu incorporates the fruit flavour of a punch with the acidity of vinegar, making it a bittersweet addition to a number of Japanese dishes, especially if you’re looking to take your Japanese dining experience to the next level.

The actual flavour of ponzu, put simply, is a vinegar-like sauce with a citrus twist. The ingredients are a combination of familiar Japanese avours: rice vinegar, mirin, katsuo-bushi (dried, shaved skipjack tuna), kombu (kelp) and soy sauce. Soy sauce is not always added, and the variety without soy sauce is naturally lighter in colour. These ingredients, once blended, serve as the base to which citrus flavour is added. Yuzu is a popular citrus that is used in making ponzu, but bitter orange or other bitter citrus fruits are sometimes used instead. Most of the varieties of ponzu that are available in North America contain lemon or lime juice, but varieties made with yuzu are becoming more common.

Fortunately, the curious are not limited to what can be found at the local supermarket. If the number of recipes that can be found online is any indication, ponzu is also pretty easy to make at home. This makes it easy to experiment with di erent types of citrus as well as with soy sauce versus non-soy-sauce varieties, and even develop your own personalized blend based on your individual taste. However, for the ponzu novice or those who want to save time in the kitchen, you’ll find it at Asian grocers or even your local supermarket.

Ponzu is often enjoyed with meat dishes, for instance as a dip with shabu-shabu just before putting the thinly sliced beef into your mouth. You can often find it served next to sashimi, with somen noodles or as an added kick to the subtle flavour of tempura. Given the acidity of ponzu, it also makes a great marinade for chicken or beef. However, if you really want to impress your friends, use your own homemade blend of ponzu with your favourite citrus for a unique, Japanese-inspired vinaigrette.