Ten Select Winter Fruits to Savor the Seasonal Flavors of Japan
Japanese fruits, such as strawberries and apples, are gaining international attention, and visiting Japan is a great opportunity to try them at the source. This article introduces 10 select fruits to try during the Japanese winter.
Characteristics of Winter Fruits
Japanese fruits that are in season in the winter are packed with nutrients. Many, such as strawberries and kiwis, are great sources of vitamin C. A variety of citrus fruits are in season in the winter, so it is a great time to enjoy unique regional varieties, such as Dekopon from Kumamoto Prefecture and Tosa Buntan from Kochi Prefecture.
Tochiotome is a variety of strawberries with the largest market share in Eastern Japan. They generally have a nice, conical shape, and very soft and juicy. They’re exceptionally sweet strawberries with the perfect amount of acidity, so they can be enjoyed as they are. The fresher the strawberry, the more fragrant it is with a brighter and more lustrous red color. When purchasing tochiotome strawberries, look for ones that are completely red up to the stem. Most of them are produced in Tochigi Prefecture, but they are also grown in the prefectures of Ibaraki, Chiba and Ehime. They are shipped between November and June and are in prime season from January to April.
Amao is a high-grade brand of strawberries produced in Fukuoka Prefecture that you may be familiar with as they are popular outside of Japan. They are bigger than the average strawberry and are distinguished by a cute, roundish shape. They have a rich sweetness that combines harmoniously with the slight acidity and are best eaten on their own. They can be seen in the market between December and May, and are in peak season from January to April.
Yuzu is a citrus fruit long beloved by the Japanese. It is characterized by a refreshing aroma and strong acidity. It is not appropriate for eating as is, but the peel and flesh are used in a variety of ways, including as seasoning and in jams, sweets, and juices. In Japan, there is a tradition during the winter solstice (around December 22) called Yuzu-yu, in which you take a bath in a tub filled with yuzu floating in the water. If you have a chance to experience it, try it out for yourself. Yuzu is in season from around November to December, and the main producer is Kochi Prefecture.
Unshu mikan (satsuma orange), which is native to Japan, is the most common winter fruit in Japan. The name “mikan” on its own is used to refer to this fruit, which is small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, seedless and can be easily peeled and eaten. It is also an affordable fruit that can be as cheap as 50 JPY each. The sweetness and acidity differ by variety, but it is generally said that mikan smaller in size with thin and soft rinds are sweeter. The main producers are Wakayama Prefecture and Ehime Prefecture. Unshu Mikan are in season between December and February.
Iyokan is a citrus fruit that is native to Japan and produced primarily in Ehime Prefecture. The flesh of this fruit is juicy, sweet and has just a hint of acidity. The rind is soft so it can easily be peeled. The skin of the segments tend to be thick, so it is recommended that they be peeled off when eating. When purchasing an iyokan, choose one that appears fresh with no wrinkles on the surface, and avoid any that feel light when picked up. Iyokan are in season between January and February.
Dekopon is a brand-name citrus fruit grown in Kumamoto Prefecture. Only fruit of the Shiranuhi (or Shiranui) variety that meet the criteria of having “a sugar level above 13° and acidity level below 1.0%” can be shipped under this name. The fruit is characterized by a bump at the top and usually weighs between 200g and 230g each. The flesh is juicy and very sweet, and the rind is soft so it can be peeled by hand. Shipment is at its peak between February and April. Ones that are dark orange in color and have smooth surfaces are said to be the tastiest.
Tosa buntan is a fruit that is representative of Kochi Prefecture winters. It is a variety of the pomelo fruit that is native to Southeast Asia, which is similar in appearance to a grapefruit. The flesh has a plump texture with a fantastic harmony of fresh sweetness and slight bitterness. The rind is thick so it is best peeled using a knife. Tosa buntan are picked between December and January then ripened for about a month. They are best eaten between January and February. The flavors are said to differ by size, with smaller ones having more concentrated flavors and the larger ones having lighter flavors.
Rainbow Red is a type of kiwi that has an unusual red color in the middle. They are a rare breed that are produced in limited areas, such as in the prefectures of Ehime, Shizuoka and Yamanashi. They are sweet with just a bit of acidity, so people who usually don’t like kiwis may find them more to their tastes. They do not store well and can be found in the markets for just a short period of time—from late September to late November in Shizuoka and mid-November to mid-December in Yamanashi. If you find it in a store, be sure to seize the opportunity to try it.
There are approximately 2,000 apple varieties in Japan, of which orin apples are particularly recommended in the winter. Orin is a variety with a yellow-green skin that weighs about 300g each. It is cultivated primarily in the Tohoku Region, which includes prefectures such as Aomori. It is a sweet apple that does not have much acidity and has a pleasant texture and light aftertaste. It also has a refreshing aroma. Orin apples are in season between mid-November and February. When choosing an orin, keep in mind that the stronger the yellowish tint the riper and less acidic it tends to be.
Persimmons are a fruit that have long been cultivated in Japan. It is popular for its firm texture and soft sweetness, and is in season between October and November. It is grown around the country, with Nara Prefecture and Wakayama Prefecture being key producers. If you are visiting Japan between November and March, try “hoshigaki”, which are dried persimmons that have a concentrated sweetness and a unique, sticky texture. Many families make their own hoshigaki, and persimmons drying on the eaves is considered to be a quintessentially Japanese scenery of the fall and winter.
All of these fruits can be purchased at supermarkets and fruit stores. Some of them are available abroad, but they are fresher, tastier and priced more reasonably in Japan, so be sure to try them if you are in Japan during the winter.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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