Fruit & nuts
A yellow fruit with large seeds, similar to small plums in size and shape, biwa have a succulent, juicy flesh which combines a delicately sweet taste with a distinctive acidity. Biwa are known for their health-giving properties and are particularly rich in vitamins C, B1 and B2. Biwa can be eaten either raw or processed to make various types of jellied confectionery or used to make delicious jam. They can even be used to produce a sweet liqueur.
The edible nuts of the gingko tree, native to China, ginnan have white shells and firm, yellow flesh. As they spoil quite quickly, they are most commonly sold in cans, pre-shelled and parboiled, or dried. They are added to chawan mushi (savoury egg custard) and as one of the ingredients cooked with rice to make takikomi gohan. Ginnan can also be enjoyed roasted, often as an accompaniment to beer, and are highly nutritious, rich in vitamin C and carotene.
Orange or red-skinned, with several large seeds, kaki can be broadly divided into sweet amagaki and astringent shibugaki varieties. Amagaki is a Japanese speciality and has a bitter taste until fully ripe, after which it becomes much sweeter and more pleasant to eat. Shibugaki is too bitter to be eaten raw due to high quantities of tannin, but can be processed to make it sweeter. Kaki is an extremely healthy fruit, possessing a good balance of proteins. Dried kaki, called hoshigaki, makes a popular snack or dessert.
Believed to be among the first fruits to be cultivated in Japan, kuri form an integral part of many Japanese dishes, both sweet and savoury. Kuri is often used in Japanese cakes and sweets either whole, in chunks or as a paste. Kuri gohan (chestnuts cooked with rice) is a particular favourite in autumn, strongly associated with the changing of the seasons. Rich in fibre, calcium, iron and vitamins B1 and C, kuri has long been known for its health-giving properties.
Although originally introduced to Japan from China, it was contact with Japan that introduced this fruit to the West, explaining why it is known by the name Satsuma, the historic name for one of the areas it is grown. Usually seedless and with a very loose skin that makes it easy to peel, mikan grow in great abundance in Japan. Mikan can be sweet, but often have a refreshing tartness and are classically enjoyed in autumn and winter seasons.
Quite distinct from Western pears in both texture and flavour, nashi are large and apple-shaped, with a crisp bite and a light, sweet taste. With a water content of around 90%, nashi are often eaten during the long, hot Japanese summer as a means of combating heat exhaustion. They are often given as a seasonal gift in the summer and autumn. Nashi are a rich source of potassium which means that they can be effective in reducing blood pressure.
Related to the yuzu, though smaller and greener, sudachi is used for its sharp-tasting juice and powerful, fragrant zest which can be finely cut and used to season many dishes. The strong aroma of the sudachi complements Japanese cuisine such as nabe winter hotpot and it is commonly served as a garnish with grilled fish such as sanma (saury), over which it is squeezed just before eating. Higher in calcium and vitamin C than lemons, its juice can be used to flavour drinks.
Yuzu has a strongly aromatic rind, quite distinct from Western citrus fruit like lemon and lime. Its zest is commonly used as a garnish while its juice is used as seasoning. Extremely versatile, it is used in a large number of Japanese dishes. Yuzu juice is an integral ingredient in the citrus-based sauce known as ponzu along with other Japanese citrus fruits such as sudachi, kabosu, and daidai. It can be used in savoury foods, cakes, ice creams and liquor.